A Dee-Fiant Easter

A Dee-Fiant Easter

This year there is no Dundee game on Easter Saturday due to the international break but five years ago there was a very special Easter Saturday match for the Dark Blues in Dingwall as the Dee-Fiant heroes secured their First Division status and overcame the Scottish League 25-point penalty.

After being docked 25 points by the Scottish League in November 2010 for going into administration for a second time, Dundee faced an uphill battle to maintain their First Division status but after a 23 game unbeaten run – a new club record set five years ago today with a 2-2 draw at home to Cowdenbeath – the club were guaranteed not to finish bottom in the first week in April and now set their sights on avoiding the ninth place relegation spot.

The Dee were in a three way battle to avoid this with Cowdenbeath and Ross County and as fate would have it, Dundee’s next match was away to Ross County in Dingwall and a win in the Highlands on Easter Saturday would guarantee Dundee’s survival; something that seemed almost impossible a few months before. To be in the position to potentially avoid the play-offs with three games to go was a remarkable achievement in itself but no one connected with the Club was taking anything for granted.

Ross County themselves had suffered a disappointing season, failing to build on their Scottish Cup Final appearance the previous year and they had lost manager Derek Adams, who moved to Hibs to join them as assistant to Colin Calderwood. It was another Calderwood, former Aberdeen boss Jimmy, who was now in charge at Victoria Park and his side had endured a frustrating midweek when The Staggies’ match away to Queen of the South was abandoned due to floodlight failure for the second time, with County leading 2-0.

That match was due now to played at Stirling Albion’s Doubletree Dunblane Stadium three days after the Dundee game and while some had felt that the Scottish League had handed one of Dundee’s relegation rivals a slight advantage by moving this game to a neutral venue, it was hoped it would be academic if Dundee could get the required result in Dingwall.

A win would guarantee safety, while matching Cowdenbeath’s score would also ensure Dundee would remain in the First Division but there was no complacency from Dundee boss Barry Smith who told The Evening Telegraph, “I was at the game on Tuesday night and I was also at the other one which was abandoned earlier in the season and have sympathy for Ross County because that’s twice they have taken the journey there only to go away and have to do it again. They were playing well and had a two-goal lead, so their players will understandably be frustrated. I am sure Jimmy Calderwood will use that to fire them up on Saturday, but our lads will be up for it as well.

“We know what we have to do. It’s in our own hands between now and the end of the season. County are playing well at the moment and so are we, so I would expect it to be a cracker of a game.”

The Queen of the South abandonment affected County’s line-up as Richard Brittain should have been suspended for the game in Dumfries, but as the match wasn’t finished, it carried over to the Dundee game. The Dark Blues had no such worries and only long-term injury victim Sean Higgins was unavailable and compared to selections options in recent weeks, this seemed like a miracle.

Although Barry had predicted a ‘cracker’, it turned out in the end to be anything but, but no one connected with Dundee cared a jot as in they end they secured the victory they needed with a 1-0 win in a scrappy affair. In many ways it was a performance which summed up much of the post-administration season as they defended superbly when under pressure, rode their luck when former Dee Stevie Milne hit the underside of the bar, played some neat passing football, ground out a result when most needed and saw a youngster come to the fore by grabbing the winning goal. (Poetic since youngsters/loanees/trialists had been so much part of the success of the season).

The winning goal came from McIntosh in sixty-five minutes when he took advantage of a poor touch from Michael McGovern to take the ball off the County keeper before rolling it into the empty net in front of a jubilant 608 away fans.

It was McIntosh’s fourth goal in three games and as the only fit striker on the books he had really come of age with vital goals at vital times after missing part of the season earlier with a broken wrist, which he still protected with a cast. His recent form earned him his first international call-up when he was selected for the forthcoming Scotland Under-19 games in Denmark and it was a fairytale end to the season for a new ‘local hero’.

Leighton wasn’t the only one who grabbed the glory as Dee goalkeeper Rab Douglas pulled off a couple of magnificent saves at vital times as he had done all season. It was the day before the big man’s thirty-ninth birthday and a better present he could not have had with the securing of Dundee’s survival.

While the day before had been Good Friday, it turned out to be a good Saturday for The Dee as the final whistle brought scenes of joy. Players, management and fans celebrated the amazing feat of what they had achieved in staying up after the 25 point deduction with two games to spare and it would be an achievement long remembered.

Barry Smith came onto the pitch at the end and shook the hand of every one of his players before acknowledging the fans by punching the air in celebration. The whole squad – from those who had played that afternoon, to the substitutes, the coaching staff, the youngsters and the injured Higgins – joined together in a huddle in front of the support in a celebratory gesture which had throughout the season been the symbol of ‘Dee-fiance’. Dundee had defied them all and were staying up.

On DFCTV, Barry talked about how proud he was of the players and that it was the culmination of everything they had been aiming for since administration and the points’ deductions. “I can’t speak highly enough of the players and credit to them for all that they have done to make sure that we are safe in the First Division”, said a beaming Smith. “A lot of teams might have chucked it when they got a twenty-five point deduction but to them that was inspiration to get to where we are now.”

Never in all his years with the Club had the Dundee legend’s smile been rightly wider.

The achievement of Dundee in staying up in the First Division after being deducted twenty-five points should never be underestimated and Dundee Lord Provost John Letford told The Courier, “There should be some recognition of what has been achieved this year because it is unparalleled.”

In the final league table Dundee finished in sixth place, twenty-four points ahead of tenth and nine points ahead of the play-off spot and Barry Smith was rightly proud of his players. In his final programme notes of the season, Barry wrote, “I am fortunate to have many great memories of my time at Dundee and the special feeling at the final whistle at Dingwall will certainly always be among them. When we were set the challenge in November to stay in this league we always believed it was possible and despite several obstacles put in our way, we achieved that aim. Everyone can be rightly proud of their contribution to helping the Club through this period.”

Smith had done a remarkable job since becoming interim manager in October and once again helped lead the club successfully through a turbulent administration period. He was club captain during the first administration in 2003, working tirelessly to help the fundraising off the pitch, while captaining the side to seventh place and survival on it and now seven years on, did it again as manager. This time however there was a points’ deduction to contend with, a transfer embargo and a skeleton squad and the rookie boss somehow managed to lead to Dundee to safety, astutely utilising the trialist system and playing some great football to boot.

There is no doubt that the circumstances which led to all this are tragic and should never be forgotten but it did eventually inspire something beautiful. It was a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows where everyone who loved the Club pulled together to save it. It was a season which no one will ever forget and it was a season where everyone connected with Dundee Football Club were ‘Dee-Fiant’ to the core!


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