Alex Rae on Dundee: Hartley, Haber & hopes of Aberdeen upset
It’s been a topsy-turvy month for Dundee. First they beat Rangers and batter Motherwell, then they lose to Partick Thistle and St Johnstone without scoring. A lack of consistency is the issue, though Paul Hartley has definitely built a squad with some real quality in it.
Up next is the daunting prospect of games against Celtic and Aberdeen. They’re two games where any point will be something of a bonus, but as I’ll explain, I don’t think that grabbing a draw is necessarily beyond the Dark Blues, especially when the Dons come to Dens Park…
Inconsistency is the problem
A lack of consistency has been Dundee’s biggest issue throughout the season, and something Paul Hartley’s been asked about a lot. They started the campaign very poorly, then had a good run, and they’re continuing to just repeat that cycle.
They’ve had some excellent performances and results – beating the likes of Rangers and Heart of Midlothian at Dens Park – but they’ve failed to keep up their momentum after those sorts of matches.
In some senses, they have been unlucky. Obviously Julen Extabeguren getting that injury against Partick Thistle which ruled out for the rest of the season has been a big blow, and that made the last game against St Johnstone a much trickier task.
Right now the focus has to be on aiming for that sixth spot before the split. You’ve got Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle just ahead, and Dundee have some very tough games coming up next, so it’s going to be difficult. But it would be absolutely huge if they can manage to – financially, as well as obviously, for the fans.
Top six – not the drop – has to be the focus
First off, I don’t think there’s any real chance of Dundee finishing bottom. There are four sides below them right now, and the Dark Blues also have a good record against some of the sides below them. They’ve taken seven points from three meetings with Motherwell, for example, so if those two meet again post-split, you’d have to fancy Dundee.
However, the fact the league is so compact means they’re not 100 per cent clear of the relegation play-off spot yet. As I said above, losing Extabeguren will be a blow, and if they continue to lose games before the split, then they’ll start looking down the table and nerves will inevitably creep in.
However, if I was Paul Hartley right now, I’d be focused on the top six. I think that as a manager, you always have to look towards the most positive possible outcome. It will be difficult. And he has reason to trust in his squad, because…
Quality trio could be key
I have my doubts about Dundee’s consistency, but certainly not about the quality Paul has built in his squad. You’ve got players like Marcus Haber, Paul McGowan and Craig Wighton, who offer a lot coming forward. So it’s no real surprise to see that they’ve currently outscored some of the teams above them in the Ladbrokes Premiership this season.
But I think even the sides in the lower reaches of the league right now all have one or two really top players, and that’s why it’s so tight this year. But even though the margins are fine, I do think Dundee probably have just about the best squad of the sides battling for that final play-off spot.
They’ve got Celtic and Aberdeen up next, so taking anything from those games is obviously a bonus – but it’s against the likes of Ross County and Hamilton Academical where those creative talents really need to shine.
Haber hitting the high notes
I think Marcus Haber was one of the best bits of business of the summer, for any Ladbrokes Premiership club. Obviously losing Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings was a real blow for Paul, and he didn’t have much of the window left to solve the problem. But he managed to bring in a guy who has led the line excellently.
He’s an out-and-out number nine (despite wearing #21!), physical, good in the air, and has a knack for scoring goals. Marcus has netted three times in the last six games, and those goals could be absolutely huge in the context of this season.
Add to that the fact he’s also useful in a defensive sense, clearing set-pieces and tracking back, and you have to say he’s been a great addition to the team.
Celtic and Dons are a very tough task…but never say never
I’d be surprised if we saw Dundee win against Aberdeen, and beating Celtic would be totally unexpected, but I wouldn’t say that getting a point in one or the other game would be a big shock, especially the game against the Dons.
Both of those sides are very strong at the moment, but remember, Aberdeen lost at Hamilton a few weeks back – so if the crowd really get behind the side at Dens Park for that one, and the home side can get an early goal, then anything’s possible!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing