2016 – Review of the Year

As 2016 came to a close we take a look back at the year just ended; a year which provided several dark blues moments to remember, none more so than on Monday the 2nd of May 2016 which no Dee who was there will ever forget.

The year got off to the perfect start when Dundee United were first foots at Dens Park on January 2nd and were sent back across the road with a 2-1 defeat. The clubs had had to wait five months to face each other again having played everyone else twice before the second derby of the season and by now the Arabs were bottom of the league and with a new manager in Mixu Paatelainen.

It was a disastrous opening spell for The Dee for after losing James McPake to injury after a clash with John Rankin that would put him out for the season, Blair Spittal scored a from the resulting free kick.

McPake would miss practically the whole calendar year with a fractured kneecap but after being appointed club captain in the summer, it is great to see him back in recent weeks, making his comeback with the Under 20s, whom he has been helping coach and it is hoped we will see him back in the first team in the New Year,

However not for the first time and not for the last The Dee roared back in a derby when Kane Hemmings took advantage of debut keeper Kawashima’s fumble from a corner to volley home for his sixth goal in three games just before the break and he would win the Premiership Player of the Month for January.

Dundee kept up the pressure on the visitors in the second half and got their reward on the hour when Nick Ross entered Dark Blue folklore with a deflected shot which flew into United’s net to give The Dee a memorable 2-1 win.

The derby win was the first time Dundee had won consecutive league games that season and they made it a hat-trick of wins in their next match with a 4-2 win in the snow at their favourite hunting ground Firhill. A sumptuous first half saw Dundee 4-1 ahead at the break and the fourth goal from Harkins, his second of the match, was a stunner. Nick Ross picked up a loose pass in midfield and played the ball on to Hemmings whose instant flick gave Harkins time to take a touch on the edge of the penalty area before whipping a marvelous shot around Thomas Cerny and into the top corner. It may well have won the DFC Goal of the Season had it not been for a certain 93rd minute winner on May Day.

With the January transfer window open, Paul Hartley brought in ex- Celtic team mate Darren O’Dea to replace the injured James McPake and the Republic of Ireland centre-half was an inspired signing with a series of impressive displays. Also joining the club was Spanish striker Arturo while captain Kevin Thomson and vice-captain Gary Irvine left to join Championship clubs; Hibs and St Mirren respectively.

Gary Harkins picked up the armband after their departure as Dundee progressed in the Scottish Cup by beating Falkirk 3-1 at Dens in a twice postponed match. The Dens Park pitch had to be ripped up and re-laid after the derby when a drainage issue had caused the postponement of the match against Celtic on December 30th and the cup tie against Falkirk on a couple of occasions.

They met Championship opposition again in the fourth round when they were drawn to face Dumbarton for only the second time in the clubs’ history and a stodgy 0-0 draw at the Cheaper Direct Insurance Stadium was tempered by an excellent 5-0 win in the replay at Dens.

In between times The Dee beat St Johnstone 2-0 at Dens in an excellent Friday night display and finished February unbeaten with draws away at Kilmarnock and at home to Inverness.

March opened with a double header in Glasgow and they headed to the Scottish Cup quarter-final at Ibrox in good fettle after an excellent 0-0 draw at Celtic Park three days before in a game Dundee could have won at the death.

The Dark Blues had been paired with Rangers after the Scottish Cup draw was redrawn when one of the balls had already opened in the bag and Dundee had already been given a home draw. With The Dee waiting to see who would be coming to Dens, the draw was suddenly stopped and went off air on SKY Sports news to fix the issue. When they returned to Hampden the draw was started again and Dundee were cursing their luck as they were now sent to Ibrox where they crashed out on a disappointing day.

March ended with the third derby of the season and it was another enthralling affair with more last minute drama. United were still rooted to the bottom and Dundee compounded their misery by going 2-0 ahead at the break thanks to a Kane Hemmings double.

Five minutes after the break however Scott Bain was sent off for bringing down Billy McKay in the box and David Mitchell’s first touch as a Dundee player was to pick McKay’s penalty out of the net. Mitchell went onto to make a series of excellent saves as United piled on the pressure and the ten men, who had defended stoutly, couldn’t quite see the game out as McKay equalised at the death.

It was another last minute derby goal at Tannadice that would have huge ramifications for United’s season for if Dundee had held on they would have likely finished in the top six and not faced their rivals again.

The Dee had a great chance to make the top six for the second season in a row after a superb 5-2 victory over Ross County and another 0-0 draw against Celtic in the long awaited re-arranged home game but they couldn’t quite get over the line at Hamilton in the last game before the split.

The Ross County win was Dundee’s first over the newly crowned League Cup winners in five years and fifth goal from Stewart was nominated for PFA Goal of The Season. It was classy effort after a swift break out of defence saw Wighton move the ball on to Greg, who shimmied into the penalty area, dancing one way, then the other, tying the defence in knots before applying the coup de grace with a cool finish into the corner of the goal from 16 yards.

The 2-1 defeat at New Douglas Park saw Dundee miss out on the top six by just a point but perhaps the footballing gods were having a hand in Dundee’s fate as a bottom six finish meant a fourth derby of the season against United. As luck would have it the post-split fixtures sent United at Dens in the second match and after a Kane Hemmings double gave Dundee a third win at Partick, they had the chance to relegate United after they lost to Hamilton and then Hamilton in turn lost to Kilmarnock.

United were 11 points behind with 12 to play for so a draw at Dens would send United down to the Championship and the game was moved to the Monday night for a live BT Sport television audience.

The Dundee fans were desperate to send United down but Paul Hartley reiterated to his players that for them the only motivation would be getting three points towards the new target of finishing 7th.

With Dundee selling out three sides of the ground, Dens Park was at fever pitch at kick off and would be rocking at the end in a match that will go down in history. On a night of emotion, drama, elation and tears Edward Ofere put United ahead early in the second half only for the Dark Blues to peg them back with Kostadin Gadzhalov’s first goal for The Dee. The equaliser came after Gary Harkins won a corner, floated it into the goalmouth, where Gadzhalov’s downward header found its way through a ruck of players and into the net, with Hemmings getting involved to distract the defenders.

Dens Park went crazy but it was nothing to the tumultuous scenes in the 93rd minute. Despite a draw being enough to please the 8148 home fans, Dundee went looking for a winner and when Sean Dillon brought Kane Hemmings down at the side of the box, there was one last chance for glory.

Instead of floating it into the box, Greg Stewart rolled a clever ball to Craig Wighton on the 18 yard line who hit a crisp low shot through the legs of two defenders and in off the inside of the post. The Law, the nearby extinct volcano nearly erupted with the noise as 18 year old Wighton, a Dundee fan, born and bred in the city raced towards the South Enclosure to celebrate. Three sides of Dens Park went wild.

This was a tough and emotional night, and ultimately it was the Dundee players who held their nerves to earn the 2-1 win. For the fourth derby of the season the team that scored first failed to win and the Dark Blues had come from behind to win both derbies at Dens. That is always special and such a spirited fight back was particularly prized by the Dark Blues’ noisy and gleeful support.

Dundee were unbeaten against United for the first time in 12 years and for only the seventh time in 40 years finished above United in the league; an achievement to be enjoyed regardless of where they finished.

An indication of how far Dundee have come in their second season back up in the top flight was illustrated by the fact that Dundee had more players in the PFA Premiership team of the year than champions Celtic and more than the clubs in 3rd to 6th combined. Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings were both nominated for PFA Player of the Year; a second nomination in a row for Greg and they were joined in the team of the year by goalkeeper Scott Bain who was called up to the Scotland squad in March and sat on the bench against Denmark and the Czech Republic. It’s was superb achievement by all three, an honour for the club and a mark of how far they had come in a relatively short time.

Dundee accrued more points than the previous season but before the season was even finished Paul Hartley was planning for the next campaign with James Vincent and Danny Williams signed up on pre-contract agreements.

The new signings joined their team mates on a week long pre season training camp in at the Obertraun National Sports and Recreation Centre in July and were also joined by Mark O’Hara and Yordi Teijsse who both made their first appearances in a pre season friendly against Dumbarton on June 28th. Michael Duffy then joined on a season long loan from Celtic and scored in his first game at Alloa before they headed for Austria.

The Dee came back from Obertraun and straight into the League Cup, renamed the Betfred Cup and revamped into a new group format. Dundee were the seeds in a five

team group alongside Dumbarton, East Fife, Peterhead and Forfar Athletic where they would face each other once.

The Dark Blues started their competitive season at New Bayview in Methil on July 16th and last season’s top goalscorer Kane Hemmings kicked the campaign off where he had left the previous one with the opening goal against East Fife but the home side pinned The Dee back with an equaliser late on and went to win the bonus point with a penalty shoot out win.

Dundee bounced back in the first home game in the season with an enjoyable 6-2 win against Dumbarton with Greg Stewart scoring a hat-trick. Their League Cup hopes were more or less dashed however in the next game with a 2-1 defeat to Peterhead at a wet and windy Balmoor Stadium.

A 7-0 win in the last match against Forfar at Dens, with Stewart getting his second successive Dens Park hat-trick, wasn’t enough to top the group and with only the section winners progressing to the knock-out stages, Dundee’s League Cup campaign was over when they finished in third place in Group A.

The Ladbrokes Premiership campaign got underway the following week on August 6th and the Dark Blues had a tricky opening tie against Ross County at the Global Energy Arena, a venue Dundee had failed to win at for five years.

Dundee were dealt a blow however on the eve of the campaign when they lost two of their star men moved to clubs down south. The day after the defeat to the Blue Toon, Kane Hemmings signed for Oxford United after The Us triggered a £250,000 release clause in his contract and he left after just one season at Dens where he scored 28 goals in 44 appearances and won the Andrew De Vries Memorial Trophy for Dundee FC Player of the Year at the Dundee Supporters Association end of season dinner.

Just before the trip to Dingwall Greg Stewart followed his striking partner south when he joined Championship side Birmingham City for an initial fee of £500,000. Stewart’s two years at Dens saw him become a key figure in the side and hugely popular on the terracing and as well as scoring the DFC Goal of the Season in 2015, he scored 32 goals in 84 appearances. His craft and creativity would be hard to replace as well as the 39 goals scored by Stewart and Hemmings in 2015/16.

Despite this, for the second season in a row Dundee turned in a terrific opening day display which thrust them to the top of league. Dundee got their Premiership season off to a flying start with an excellent 3-1 win against Ross County after Rory Loy set the Dark Blues on their way with two first half goals, the second from the penalty spot. Paul McGowan put the Dee further ahead just after half time only for Craig Curran to pull a quick goal back for the home side. However, Dundee put in a solid, professional performance to close the game out to the delight of the noisy and enthusiastic travelling support who saw new signing Faissal El Bakhtaoui come off the bench to make his debut after joining from Dunfermline earlier that week.

Dundee’s first home league game of the season was against newly promoted side Rangers and despite a spirited performance against the SPFL Championship winners in which Mark O’Hara scored his first goal for the club in front of the BT Sport cameras, the Light Blues headed home west to Govan with a 2-1 win.

Before the next match against Hamilton at Dens, former Nice central defender Kevin Gomis would sign until the end of the season but the Accies game would come too soon for him in which O’Hara scored for the second game in succession in a 1-1 Friday night draw.

Gomis would make his debut against their Lanarkshire neighbours Motherwell on August 27th and he would put in a man of the match performance in a 0-0 draw.

After the international break in which Michael Duffy was called up by Northern Ireland for the first time, The Dee recorded their third successive draw in a 1-1 stalemate with Kilmarnock in which Faissal El Bahktaoui scored his first goal for Dundee.

A tough run of fixtures against Aberdeen (h), Inverness Caledonian Thistle (a), Celtic (h), Heart of Midlothian (a), St Johnstone (a) and Partick Thistle (h) saw The Dee slump to the bottom of the Premiership with six straight defeats but arrested that run with a gritty and determined victory against Hamilton at the SuperSeal Stadium on October 29th.

Canadian internationalist Marcus Haber had been brought in to bolster the front line and looked to be forming the beginnings of a partnership with Craig Wighton although it was Paul McGowan who was the hero with the winner just after the hour. It was an excellent team victory and at the end of the match the players and coaching staff formed a huddle in front of the away support to show that there was togetherness in the squad and dispel any rumours that the manager had lost the dressing room.

Dundee followed that up with their first home win of the season against in form Motherwell on a day in which Dundee wore their pink third kit in support of the Maggies Centre. Both Cammy Kerr and Marcus Haber scored their first goals for the club and the joy on the face of Kerr as he ran to celebrate in front of the Bobby Cox Stand where he had sat as boy was there for all to see. He proved he really is ‘one of our own’ but it was another ‘one of our own’ Craig Wighton who stole the show with stand out display in a man of the match performance.

The main talking point of the match was whether David Mitchell, in for the injured Scott Bain had carried a Scott McDonald cross over his own goal line but the officials said not and The Dee secured a 2-0 win much to the chagrin of Well boss Mark McGhee.

Marcus Haber celebrated his first goal with a call up for Canada in the international break and he would play the full ninety minutes against South Korea in a friendly in Cheonan; the first Dee to win an international cap since Chris Pozniak also for Canada in 2009.

Dundee’s first trip to Ibrox since 2004 followed the international break on November 19th but their was heartache for the Dark Blues when after defending resolutely and creating a few chances, conceded a 92nd minute goal to Andy Halliday to lose 1-0.

The Dark Blues recovered in the next game however to record back to back home wins and their first victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Dens since 2005. Goals from Craig Wighton and Kostadin Gadzhalov gave The Dee a hard fought 2-1 win but also meant that the last ten Dundee goals were scored by ten different players.

Dundee made it three games undefeated at home in the next game at Dens with a 0-0 draw with Ross County but the tightness of the Ladbrokes Premiership had been illustrated first by Dundee moving from 11th to 7th after the Caley game and then by the teams from 5th to 11th all drawing after the County game.

Away defeats to Celtic and Partick Thistle sandwiched a fantastic victory over Hearts at Dens. Dundee thrilled the fans by battling their way back from 2-0 down to beat the Edinburgh side 3-2 at Dens Park. Hearts took an early lead through a Jamie Walker penalty. When Callum Paterson added a second for the Jam Tarts at the start of the second half the Dee had a mountain to climb. A Darren O’Dea goal started the fightback then Paul McGowan came off the bench to equalise. Three minutes into injury time Marcus Haber headed the winner, sending the delighted fans home with broad grins on their faces.

Dundee finished 2016 as they started, by defeating their local rivals at Dens Park. In January the derby victims were Dundee United. On Hogmanay St Johnstone had to deputise in United’s absence and the Dee saw off Saints 3-0. Goals by Faissal El Bakhtaoui and Kosta Gadzhalov put the Dark Blues in a strong position at half time. Dundee’s win was sealed by Steven Anderson’s unfortunate own goal early in the second half.

It is shaping up therefore to be an exciting 2017 where every point will be a prisoner either to ease away from the bottom or push towards the top six and Dundee will return first on Scottish Cup duty on January 21st after the reintroduced winter break when hopefully The Dee will start a long overdue successful Road to Hampden.

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