Dundee moved off the bottom of the table with a marvellous fighting performance in a 1-1 draw against Rangers at the Kilmac Stadium at Dens Park. Kenny Miller put the Dark Blues ahead with an early goal but they had little time to settle on the lead. Nathan Ralph was sent off and Andy Halliday equalised in quick succession leaving Dundee to hold on for 70 minutes. They did so magnificently in a performance that showed coolness, strength of character and determination in abundance.
Following Wednesday’s win over Hamilton the Dark Blues’ only change was enforced by Darren O’Dea’s injury. Andy Boyle replaced him. Rangers made no fewer than six changes from their match against Aberdeen; Joe Worrall, Eros Grezda, Andy Halliday, Jordan Rossiter, Ryan Kent and Kyle Lafferty came in for Gareth McAuley, Jon Flanagan, Lassana Coulibaly, Oviemuno Ejaria, Glenn Middleton, and Alfredo Morelos.
Rangers started by probing for openings through the inside right channel hoping to exploit gaps between central defence and left back. Twice they sent Kyle Lafferty clear on the right, but neither time could they make anything of the opportunity.
The Dark Blues took the lead in remarkably simple fashion after eight minutes with a goal that prompted a furious inquest in the Rangers defence. The centre backs and keeper Allan McGregor all hesitated over a long ball. Kenny MILLER didn’t hang around and nipped in to stab home his sixth goal in four games, leaving the embarrassed visitors to argue about whose fault it was.
The game was going nicely for the Dee but everything changed on 18 minutes. Nathan Ralph dived in to foul Daniel Candeias a couple of feet outside the penalty area as the Rangers winger was racing for goal. Referee Mr Muir controversially pulled out his red card for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity, even though Andy Boyle seemed to be covering. Andy HALLIDAY completed the punishment by rifling the free kick into Hamilton’s top right corner.
Within a minute Dundee almost raced straight back into the lead. Jesse Curran raced down the right and his cross sparked more confusion in the Rangers defence. Kenny Miller pounced on the loose ball and McGregor had to save with his feet.
Dundee reorganised with Calvin Miller moving to left back and Paul McGowan shifting left to provide him with cover.
Rangers continued to target the inside right channel for their attacks. Eros Grezda’s fierce low cross spun off Andy Boyle and bobbled past the far post. Kyle Lafferty put the ball in the net from Ryan Kent’s cross, but he was flagged for offside, possibly unluckily. If Lafferty was unfortunate then, he was certainly lucky a few minutes later when the officials missed his off the ball kick at Genseric Kusunga that might have evened up the red cards.
The half finished with Halliday flicking a cross a few feet wide. The Dee had done very well to hold Rangers at bay until half time, but no-one could have had any illusions about how hard the second 45 minutes would be.
That second half was certainly tough, but every single one of the Dark Blues rose to the challenge superbly. Rangers piled on the pressure, but they could never break Dundee down.
Jack Hamilton and his four defenders were superb in that long second half, and they received wonderful support from a four man midfield that never stopped running, pressing and covering. Right through the team the players kept their concentration, kept their shape and never allowed Rangers a moment’s peace.
Kenny Miller was often left isolated up front, but he never stopped running and offered much needed help to the midfield. When he was replaced by Benjamin Källman for the last 15 minutes he had given his all and the supporters recognised that as they applauded him off the park.
So impressive was the performance of the Dark Blues with their backs to the wall that Rangers managed only one real shot on target, when Ryan Jack tried to bend the ball round Hamilton from the edge of the penalty area. The Dee keeper held that shot, but apart from that his workload consisted of coming to take a succession of crosses.
Time and again it seemed that Rangers were sure to get a shot away, but a Dee hero would always pounce or throw their body in the way. Kusunga and Boyle were towers of strength in the heart of the defence. Amongst many fine defensive challenges Andy Boyle nailing Grezda, and Glen Kamara picking Ryan Jack’s pocket were the most memorable.
Dundee had the occasional venture upfield, and Jesse Curran’s pace and energy offered the most promising outlet. There were a couple of moments when they might have exploited an opening, but that is being extremely picky about a second half team performance that gave the supporters everything they craved.
Football fans love skill and entertainment, but what they really respect and demand is that players give their all for the cause. When the final whistle blew the 10 Dee heroes received a loud, passionate, standing ovation. Some of the players looked as if they couldn’t have run off the pitch, but there wasn’t a hint of exhaustion until the referee blew for full time.
At the sound of the final whistle Paul McGowan almost bent double in exhaustion. It was a perfect illustration of the phrase “leaving it all on the pitch”. After the sending off McGowan put in enough work for two men as he covered the left flank while still trying to contribute in his normal role behind Kenny Miller.
It was only one point, but it was enough to lift Dundee off the bottom of the table. This was one of the finest battling draws we have seen from the Dee in recent seasons – in recent decades even.
Dundee FC 4-4-1-1
Kerr, Kusunga, Boyle, Ralph
Curran, Kamara, Woods (Spence 85), Calvin Miller
Kenny Miller (c) (Källman 76)
Unused subs: Parish (gk), Nabi, Inniss, Moore, Lambert.
Goal: Kenny Miller (8).
Booked: Kusunga (squaring up to Lafferty).
Sent off: Ralph (denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity).
Tavernier (c), Worrall, Goldson, Halliday (Ejaria 69)
Kent (Middleton at half time), Candeias, Rossiter (Barisic 56), Grezda
Unused subs: Foderingham (gk), McCrorie, Katic, Coulibaly.
Goal: Halliday (20).
Booked: Jack (foul on Calvin Miller), Lafferty (squaring up to Kusunga).
Attendance: 8,578 (3,940 away fans).
Referee: Alan Muir. Assistants: David Doig, Graham Chambers. Fourth Official: Greg Aitken.
Report: James Christie.