#2: Dundee (0) – St Johnstone (2)

Dundee FC vs St Johnstone FC
Pre-Season Friendly
FT: 0-2 (May 19, Mackay 50)
Attendance: 2,172
Wednesday 13th July 2011

1. The Clubs

Firstly, I must confess to being guilty of the number one sin possible for a Saints fan to commit – I have a soft spot for Dundee FC. There, I said it. I’ve always enjoyed the rivalry between the teams and see the Dark Blues as pantomime villains as opposed to genuine hate figures, preferring to save any actual bile I might have for things like landlords and the bank. Or at least the Old Firm. I miss the derby matches when they aren’t there and look forward to them more than any other fixture when they are, games against Dundee Utd just don’t have the same appeal.

Saints and Dundee are clubs of similar size and support, run in completely contrasting ways as businesses but both seemingly destined to bounce between the top 2 divisions indefinitely. The rivalry between them stems, in part, from the closing game of the 1961/62 season when Dundee came to Muirton Park and won 3-0, a result which secured the league title for the away side whilst relegating Saints. Since then many memorable encounters have played out in both Perth and Dundee, including a 2-2 draw at McDiarmid in the mid 90’s where the visitors turned out in Saints’ away strips due to both their own kits that season being blue (d’oh!), the famous 7-2 victory for Saints on New Year’s day 1997 and the last meeting of the sides, when former (and now current) Dundee striker Steven Milne struck to all but secure the first division title for the Perth team in 2009.

St Johnstone brought a more recognisable looking squad up the A90 on this evening than the one that we saw in Arbroath, trialist Marcus Haber the only non-numbered player to start. Danijel ‘Subo’ Subotic was in attendance but didn’t feature and there was no sign of ‘Trialist Jimmy’ or the mystery winger from last week. More worrying was the absence of Murray Davidson, fuelling rumours of a possible move to Rangers.

Enough has been said about Dundee’s recent financial issues and I’m not going to bother chipping in with my ten cents here. The last time I saw them play was in November against Partick Thistle. A hard-fought 2-1 victory with Jamie Adams scoring Dundee’s late winner in one of his last loan appearances for the club before returning to Perth. The siege mentality at Dens at the time, just after their 25 point deduction, was fascinating. The atmosphere was electric though, with the fans supporting their team like champs from start to finish. The home side fielded tonight was a million miles away in terms of both personnel and spirit but with key figures Rhys Weston, Craig McKeown, Nicky Riley, Ross Chisholm and Graham Bayne all missing, it’s perhaps harsh to judge them off the back of a one-off match.

2. The Ground

Dens Park falls into the category of ‘cut ‘n’ shut’ grounds that are, sadly, becoming increasingly rare creatures these days as teams like St Mirren, Falkirk et al move off to pastures new and identikit. Refurbishment in the 90’s has left Dens with a strange blend of the old and the new. Behind each goal sits a modern all seater stand in the style found at countless stadiums around the country. A  seated covered enclosure, affectionately known as The Derry, runs along half of the South side of the pitch. The most vocal supporters are usually found there, although tonight only the Bobby Cox and Main stands are in use. The latter, a bizarre dog-leg shaped structure where the Saints fans are housed this evening, is a relic from a bygone age and a lovely, if completely impractical, example of form over function.

Dens Park, Dundee

Our view was almost comically poor, with the roof of the stand and a couple of pillars teaming up to make an ordeal of enjoying the game. The leg room allowance was ridiculous too but we managed to relocate to seats at the top of one of the staircases where this wasn’t a problem before it got too busy. Entry was ten pounds with a half price concession for kids and OAPs. Gate prices for Season 2011/12 will be £19 for adults, £10 concessions.

3. The Game

The match kicked off in very clement atmospheric conditions, which have made me seriously reconsider my anti-summer football stance, although there wasn’t an awful lot to write home about in the first half. The Saints midfield knocked the ball about nicely and carved out a couple of half-chances early on while Dundee’s attacking threat came in the form of Steven Milne. The former Saint almost pounced on a couple of moments of defensive shakiness but failed to get a shot off either time. The deadlock was broken midway through the first half when Stevie May turned in a towering Marcus Haber header at the back post following a Sean Higgins corner from the right. A Jorg Albertz-esque free kick effort from Saints’ Callum Davidson was the only other first half event to get the Perth fans out of their seats.

St Johnstone almost added a second right at the start of the second but Marcus Haber saw his square ball turned behind by a defender before Sean Higgins could get a touch. Minutes later, however, the lead was doubled and the game effectively killed off as Morris and Higgins teamed up beautifully to set up right back Dave Mackay who took a touch before finishing tidily from inside the box. I’m pretty confident it’s in no way biased to call it a goal Barcelona would be proud of!

St Johnstone goalkeeper Peter Enckelman wasn’t tested until midway through the second half, the Finn holding well from a powerful header by Dundee’s trialist centre half. Multiple substitutions by both sides followed and the game petered out, Dundee worked hard to carve out opportunities but lacked the killer instinct they’ve shown in recent years. Saints came close to adding a third when substitute Jamie Adams lost his marker to get on the end of a free kick but sent his first touch of the match a yard wide. The only other real talking point was, what looked to us like, a blatant handling of the ball outside the box by Enckelman which riled the Dundee fans behind the goal.

4. The Banter

As mentioned in article 1, St Johnstone v Dundee is a fixture I love, thanks in no small part to the heated and entertaining exchanges between supporters – although as this was the first time I’ve attended it as a friendly it was an odd experience, like in Back to the Future Pt II when Marty goes to the parallel 1985 and everything looks familiar but is all wrong. The large St Johnstone support was great to see, especially given the ‘boycott 6p in the pound FC’ attitude of a lot of our number. The home turn out was disappointing by comparison and the two empty stands and relative positioning of the home and away supports killed any chance of an atmosphere.

As Mssr Lambert was unable to make it on the night I was accompanied by our mutual pal, Johnny, who is a great guy to watch a game with and a good time was had despite the lack of atmosphere and terrible view. Attempted chants of traditional away-end-at-McDiarmid-Park anthem ‘What a Shitey Home Support’ from the Saints fans raised a smile, as did Derek McIness’ stint as a stand in ballboy. There was a definite ‘still got it!’ twinkle in his eye as he raced after a stray ball in his traditional matchday attire of shorts and boots!

5. The Verdict

An enjoyable evening in the Summer sun. From the display on offer Dundee supporters might have a lot to worry about for the coming season, and will have their work cut out if they want to be title contenders in the notoriously competitive first division. St Johnstone look a lot more creative in the final third than they did last term which is heartening, although the team fielded tonight is unlikely to be the first choice 11. If Marcus Haber signs he looks like he will be an important part of the team this year. Our biggest problem last season was a lack of goals, hopefully Haber and/or Subojtic could be an answer to this.

McIness opted to start Haber out wide on the right, in a similar fashion to that which striker Colin Samuel was often utilised last season, before shuffling the formation a bit and playing him as a more out-and-out centre forward for the last 20 minutes or so. Seventeen year-old St Johnstone substitute Liam Caddis looks pretty handy and I hope to see some more appearances off the bench from him this year.

Not a classic game of football by anyone’s standards but following season 2010/11 I will happily accept anything that features a St Johnstone goal!

Mike Lennie

Dundee website: www.dundeefc.co.uk
St Johnstone website: www.perthstjohnstonefc.co.uk

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