Date: 25 February 2012
Venue: Dens Park
Competition: League - SFL1
Dundee's faint hopes of promotion took another blow today when they couldn't get the win they needed to close the gap on Ross County. Five consecutive draws for the Dee mean that the title race looks increasingly like a contest between County and Falkirk, with today's visitors the strong favourites after extending their unbeaten run to 20 league games.
A draw might have been a frustrating result, but it was a fair outcome in a tough and bruising contest. Dundee came back strongly after an awful opening 20 minutes. Yet again they conceded the first goal, but a penalty after half an hour by Ryan Conroy levelled the scores.
From then on Dundee had plenty of the ball, but didn't have the control in midfield or the quality of delivery into the box to create clear chances for the strikers.
Kevin McBride, the former Hibs and Falkirk player, was the surprise trialist in the home line-up today, replacing Ross Chisholm in midfield. The other change was Carl Finnigan, who was given his first start, replacing Steven Milne, after coming off the bench to score on Tuesday.
The Dee were rocked when County took the lead with their first serious attack after 10 minutes. Morrison's deep cross beyond the far post was knocked back across the goalmouth by Brittain for KETTLEWELL to tap in a simple chance.
The goal gave County a huge surge of confidence and they came storming at Dundee. They nearly grabbed a second only two minutes later when the home defence failed to clear a high free kick and Rab Douglas had to save Scott Boyd's close range shot with his legs.
County's passing and movement had a nervous Dundee reeling for the next few minutes. Gradually the Dee regained their composure and worked their way back into the game.
The visitors were no longer having things their own way. Jamie McCluskey's run through the County midfield was ended 25 yards out by Kettlewell, whose shocking challenge from behind was clearly aimed at the man rather than the ball.
Carl Finnigan was coping well with Grant Munro's physical defending, and earned a penalty after half an hour with a good run into the box that was ended by Kettlewell's trip. Although Mr Tumilty was well placed he didn't award the penalty until he'd checked for the assistant referee's signal.
With Matt Lockwood relieved of penalty duties, and Steven Milne on the bench the responsibility fell to Ryan CONROY. He slammed a low shot into the corner in a confident style that suggests he will continue to take the penalties.
Dundee were the better side now, and County never again looked as dangerous as they had in their excellent opening spell. However, it was only occasionally that Dundee could put together the sort of fluent passing move that looked like opening up the defence.
For long spells in the second half both teams were throwing themselves into the battle. Play raged around the midfield, but bumps, bruises and prostrate bodies were far more common than clear openings.
Gardyne fleetingly broke clear to run at Douglas from 30 yards, but promptly fell over with no-one anywhere near him. Colin McMenamin had a header from a corner, which deflected off his teammate Boyd and bounced off the top of the bar. Apart from those two incidents midway through the half the game largely consisted of Dundee failing to get through the County defence, with the visitors set up for hitting on the break.
Carl Finnigan, who was having a fine debut, looked dangerous and the combination of Irvine and McCluskey on the right promised much, but in the end Dundee couldn't produce another goal.
Finnigan might have won another penalty when he wriggled into the area and was wrestled to the ground by Munro, but the referee decided to give the defender the benefit of the doubt, a generous gesture given the constant moaning he'd had to endure from the County defender. In fairness to Mr Tumilty this cannot have been a pleasant game to referee. He was inclined to let play flow, while the players seemed happier digging lumps out of each other and snarling at the officials.
County survived a couple of scrambles in their goalmouth in the closing minutes. A cross-shot from Milne evaded Finnigan and bobbling agonisingly wide of the post. However, for the most part the visitors' defence coped well with the pressure and weren't nearly as stressed as the Dark Blue support would have hoped.
Kevin McBride had a tidy debut, but it is too early to say whether or not he'll be the partner that Stephen O'Donnell needs to provide the Dee with a solid central midfield. Carl Finnigan showed he will be an asset. He linked well and showed a willingness to compete and run at the defence in spite of the bruising attentions of his marker.
County were quite happy with the draw and Dundee didn't play well enough to force a win. They couldn't sustain a composed passing game, and the few high quality moves they did produce were usually kicked off by ambitious passes that weren't easy to repeat.
This was a game Dundee badly needed to win to remain credible challengers, but for the fourth successive match they conceded the first goal and handed the initiative to their opponents. They've been able to salvage draws from all four games, but these early goals and dropped points have left Dundee a distant 3rd favourite for promotion.
Dundee FC 4-4-2
Irvine, Weston, McGregor, Lockwood
McCluskey, O'Donnell, McBride (Milne 74), Conroy
Hyde (Bayne 83), Finnigan
Unused subs; Gibson (gk), McKeown, Chisholm
Goal; Conroy (pen 31)
Bookings; Weston (foul on Gardyne), Douglas (tripping McMenamin when he was playing on after the whistle)
Ross County 4-3-2-1
Miller, Boyd, Munro, Morrison
Brittain, Lawson, Kettlewell
Gardyne (Corcoran 77), Vigurs
McMenamin (Craig 84)
Unused subs; Malin (gk), Quinn, Flynn
Goals; Kettlewell (10)
Bookings; Kettlewell (foul on McCluskey), Brittain, Munro (foul on Finnigan), McMenamin (playing on after the whistle)
Attendance; 5,003 (297 County fans)
Referee; Mike Tumilty
Report; James Christie