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    Winging It

    Doon Derby Magic from The Wizard

    Photo courtesy of: Derek Gerrard Photography

    Most Dee’s will have been saddened by the recent departure of Craig ‘CW33’ Wighton to Hearts. The parallels between the journey he is setting out on and the one taken by his now ex-manager, Neil McCann, just over 20 years before him, also something that won’t have escaped those of a Dark Blue persuasion.

    Making his Dundee debut in his teens, becoming the club’s youngest ever goal scorer along the way and having been lauded by his peers and elders are all bold boasts. And yet, it was his squirting, squirming trundler that sauntered its way through the entire Dundee United defence to nestle in their goal in the final moments of the never to be forgotten Doon Derby that will always see ‘CW33’ as part of our club’s history. That Craig leaves an impressive legacy at Dens is an understatement, especially considering he’s still only 21.

    With so much going his way, Wighton’s departure for a reported £250,000, doesn’t seem that much of a shock. However, unlike his manager before him, the major difference this time is that this youngster, so far, has failed to truly fulfil his potential. Most people believe that Wighton’s ultimate position within a team will be the traditional No.10 role as the playmaker sitting behind the front two; pulling the strings, tormenting opposition midfielders and chipping in with more than a few goals of his own. 

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    Hence, the question really needs to be, why have Dundee supporters, seldom, if ever, seen ‘The Wizard’, as he was dubbed by the likes of Gary Harkins no less, in that role? In truth, only his one-time Dundee managers, John Brown, Paul Hartley and Neil McCann, can answer that question. 

    Instead, the role that the tricky ball player was most often asked to fill was one that has proved to be a poisoned chalice for many a Dee. All manner of players squeezed and squashed into a role that was never going to suit them. The dreaded wide left midfield berth…

    We don’t have to go any further back than last season to find Neil McCann asking the, admittedly at a much mower level, free scoring Faissal El Bakhtaoui to play on the left wing. The slightly built whippet looking a forlorn figure as games passed him by. Admittedly El-Bak would also be tried unsuccessfully in umpteen other positions, but as often as not the striker could be found struggling to take on the opposition right back and over hitting crosses into The Derry. 

    So, obviously this is a weakness of Neil McCann’s managerial style? Well, probably yes, and possibly no, for he is not alone. From the top of my head Dee legends Jim Duffy and Jocky Scott were equally afflicted by a desire to utilise players completely unsuited to the role of a winger, as their wide left option. 

    Don’t believe me? Well, ask yourself why Colin McMenamin, who scored a barrowload of goals for the likes of Livingston and Gretna before coming to Dundee, and Queen of the South and Ross County after his departure, had his early goal scoring form for The Dee’s ignored as Jocky asked him to protect the full back and whip in crosses from the left. After all, this was a player who needed to stop a stranger and ask him for directions if he found himself anywhere other than in the opposition’s penalty box. 

    Something that could also be said for Rory Loy, a poacher who found himself, quite rightly, surplus to goalscoring requirements when Kane Hemmings hit a career high purple patch for Dundee. Harrying defenders and putting in crunching tackles was never on Loy’s agenda and arguably his spell under Paul Hartley’s tutelage ruined the striker’s career.

    Other less obvious ‘wingers’ to plough the wide left furrow at Dens include a couple of players whose own individual talent proved enough to rise above being played out of position. Leigh Griffith’s tenacity, blistering pace and accuracy from distance more than enough to hide his questionable deployment. While the glorious one, Gary Harkins, was (and still is) capable of mesmerising defenders with his fleet footwork and the merest shimmy of his ample hips. Still, like Craig Wighton, ‘GGH’ was a maestro you wanted pulling the strings from the centre of the park, devastating defences as he did so.

    Less successful was the man of not one goal, but of Juan, two three strikes against Dundee United, Juan Sara. Who, once the goals dried up under Jim Duffy’s direction, also found himself playing deeper and deeper and, on occasion, marginalised out on the left. With his confidence already shot through his sudden lack of goals, playing in a position that he was never suited to was only going to end one way. The DAB destroyer becoming a pale, impotent shadow of the player he had once been.

    However, the most ludicrous left winger I’ve seen in my time going to watch Dundee is actually one of our cult heroes. A goal scoring target man with time spent at Celtic, Aberdeen, Middlesbrough and Watford – and fresh from a reasonably prolific spell with Motherwell – Willie Falconer is undoubtedly one of the most effective, out and out, frontmen we’ve seen at Dens over the past twenty years. 

    So what his manager at the time, the much moustachioed Jocky Scott, was thinking as Dundee lined up at home to Rangers on a cold February evening in 2000, with the hustling, bustling, centre back bursting Falconer hugging the left hand touchline, I don’t think anyone – including Jocky – will ever know. Old ladies used to ask ‘Big Wullie’ if he needed a hand to cross the street, so the only shock when the seasoned frontman spent 90 minutes falling over his own feet, hitting defenders with ‘crosses’ and losing the ball over and over, was that his manager didn’t see it coming. Rangers did and promptly left Dens with a victory of seven goals to one. 

    To Willie’s great credit, he outlasted his manager at Dens, resisted Ivano Bonetti’s cull of Scottish players and went on to successfully partner no less than Claudio Caniggia in the Dee’s frontline. Quickly putting to rest one of the most bizarre midfield ‘experiments’ we’ve ever seen.

    In fairness to these strikers come left wingers, even players who were supposedly ‘meant’ to play out there, have found the position too much for them when they arrived at Dundee. Mark Gilhaney, having destroyed The Dark Blues for Hamilton Accies down the left wing on numerous occasions, looking like a lost wee laddie asking for his Mum when he pulled on a Dark Blue shirt. While Freddie Daquin is legendary for his ability to run down the wing and straight out of play. Although to be fair to the Frenchman, he proved just as adept at that skill on his favoured right flank as he did when hunting for some never to be found form on the left! 

    And yet, last season, with the welcome exception of his top flight securing cross onto the head of Simon Murray, Randy Wolters made nearly all of these men look like world beaters. The burly, attitude packed wide-o showing up without a trick in his bag, or an end product to sell. 

    But surely not every player to play wide left over the past few decades for Dundee has been absolutely, dreadfully awful in that role? Well, when he was played a little deeper, Gavin Swankie gave it a half decent go, while, to be fair, it’s hard to say that the much maligned Ryan Conroy doesn’t show up rather favourably against most of those both before and after his time at the club.
     
    Ryan’s wing-partner Nicky Riley, also gave it a half decent go when he was put on his less favoured side. While there’s no denying that the man of many, all and sometimes no midfield position at all, Greg Stewart, did a lot of his best work while playing down that flank. Although a certain Kevin Holt might not be so keen to agree...

    Hence, we might just need to go back to the gaffer, Mr Neil McCann, to unearth the last Dundee player to truly make the left wing his own. Dropping his shoulder to beat players, hitting the byline to expertly stick the ball on Jim Hamilton’s napper and scoring the occasional wonder goal, just as he did the night he helped send Dundee to the Coca Cola cup final.

    Which, of course, begs the questions of why our current manager, a man who spent years tormenting right backs, prefers such a narrow formation, and why can’t he find a left midfielder with even a tenth of the potency he possessed?

    With Craig Wighton now wearing the maroon of Hearts, who will be next to be left out in the cold? Well, we’ve already seen Jean Alassane Mendy run about lost against St Johnstone out there and, of course, one of Scotland’s most prolific goal scorers of the past couple of decades, Kenny Miller, become more and more frustrated as the curse tried to overcome him on his debut for Dundee. Calvin Miller, it’s over to you. No pressure now... 

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      His professional career saw him play for Dundee (two spells), Heart of Midlothian (two spells), Rangers, Southampton and Falkirk. He also played 26 times for the Scotland national football team.
      McCann started his career with Dundee before moving on to Heart of Midlothian in 1996. He helped the Tynecastle side win the Scottish Cup in 1998, their first major trophy in 36 years. McCann moved to Rangers later that year for £1.9 million, becoming the club's first major Scottish Catholic signing since Mo Johnston. He scored two goals against Rangers' arch-rivals Celtic on 2 May 1999 to clinch the SPL title. In 2003 Rangers were forced to sell him due to their financial problems.
      He joined Southampton on 5 August 2003, for £1.5 million. A series of injuries made it difficult for him to maintain his place in the team. McCann scored one goal for Southampton, in a League Cup tie against Northampton Town. His contract with Southampton was terminated by mutual consent in January 2006.
      On 17 January 2006, McCann rejoined Hearts. He sustained a serious injury while playing in his first match since returning to Hearts against Kilmarnock, meaning he missed their victory in the 2006 Scottish Cup Final. He returned from injury for the UEFA Champions League qualifier against Široki Brijeg of Bosnia. However, on 25 August 2007, he suffered a double leg break during Hearts' loss to Celtic in a tackle on Scott Brown. Brown was unharmed in the tackle.
      On 14 May 2008, it was announced that McCann had signed for SPL rivals Falkirk. He scored on his debut against former club Hearts, and then scored twice for Falkirk in League Cup ties against Queen of the South and Inverness. He also played for Falkirk in the 2009 Scottish Cup Final. He was released on 22 August 2009 after managerial changes at Falkirk, with outgoing manager John Hughes (the manager that signed him) being replaced by Eddie May.
      On 12 February 2011, McCann came out of retirement to help Dundee stave-off relegation. He scored a last minute goal in his first appearance, against Raith Rovers.
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      Hearts went into Administration on 17 June 2013 and on the 19th on June the administrators BDO were appointed to run the club. As well as the signing embargo, Hearts were to be deducted a third of the previous season's points tally which meant the club would start the 2013/2014 season with −15 points.
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      Hearts relegation from the Scottish premiership was confirmed on the 5th of April 2014. On May 12th 2014 Ann Budge took over control ending Vladimir Romanov's with Hearts. The club officially exited administration on 11 June 2014, also bringing to an end the signing embargo that had been imposed upon the club a year earlier.
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      Dundee are still without long term injuries Meekings, Hamilton and Davies. There have been hints that both Nelson and Curran should be fit for the game, but we should know more closer to the game.
      Last Time Out
      The last time these two sides met were on the 23rd of January 2019 and Dundee walked out of Tynecastle with a massive 2-1 win against The Jam Tarts and moved off the bottom of the table. Read the Dundee FC Online Match-Report.
      This was the first game where Jim McIntyre's new signings Andrew Nelson and Andy Dales featured, and straight off they were causing problems for the Hearts defence.
      It was Kusunga who opened the scoring in the 23rd Minute, he picked up the ball midway into the Hearts half and charged forward playing a neat one two with Nelson in the box and fired a low shot past Doyle. There's not many defender who you will see scoring goals like that.
      Dundee pressed Hearts looking for a second goal, Dales with a dipping shot just over the crossbar and C Curran and J Curran working together but C Curran's header was well saved by Doyle.
      The Jambos equalised in the 40th minute via a free-kick just outside the box. Lee's free-kick hit off the head of J Curran looping over Dieng inside the far post which saw the teams all square 1 - 1 at the interval.
      Dundee came out in the second in pretty much as they did in the first half and were causing the Hearts back line all manners of problems.
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      The last time these two clubs met,  Dundee won 2-1 at Tynecastle to move off the bottom of the league. However, Dundee suffered a 3 - 0 defeat to Heart at Dens Park on Tuesday the 23rd of October under Jim Mcintyre's first game in charge.
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      01‑Apr‑18 Dundee 1 - 1 Hearts
      12‑Dec‑17 Hearts 2 - 0 Dundee
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      Paul Hartley played for both Edinburgh clubs before he came Dundee manager in 2014.

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      Neil McCann believed he brought in players who he thought were the same class as the players at Serie A sides like Milan and Juventus but the fans could see from the offset that most of the new additions weren't good enough.
      Our defence has been a shambles and it doesn’t really matter who seems to play there, nothing really changes and that is testament to the amount of goals we have shipped so far this season. 60 in total so far and that is unacceptable for the club.
      When you are not scoring goals, you expect your defence to at least keep a few clean sheets. Our goal difference could be the difference between staying up or going down.
      You could put our performances and results down to McCann's duds, but I feel that both managers have to take responsibility for our results as well. While McCann could be excused for being inexperienced, you cannot excuse some of his team selections, formations and tactics, as at times they were bloody awful. I'm not sure that given more time the results would have started to change under McCann and I think we could have been left trailing at the basement of the league. In all honestly, the shock was how long the board actually let him go on before changing.
      After McCann was sacked, John Nelms was in the news saying that we needed to bring in a more experienced manager, but in good old Dundee fashion, we couldn't even do that right.
      When the club appointed McIntyre they surely knew that the new boss would want his own assistant and that would be Billy Dodds who would bring a lot of baggage with him and there possibly would have been an uproar from the Dundee faithful. I honestly thought that Nelms and Keyes were shocked by the response and even though Dodds had been interviewed, the board quickly backtracked him out the door.
      Judging by a lot of the fans’ reaction, many were surprised but not shocked by the appointment of McIntyre but were secretly hoping that we would have brought someone else in instead. I, like many, were hoping that with the arrival of a more experienced manager we would start seeing improvements on the park, better team organisation in each area of the team, improved fitness, much better tactics and formation. But truth be told, this really didn't happen with a lot of fans bemoaning that nothing would change until the new boss got his own players in.
      In all honesty, while there has been a little improvement, it hasn't been enough and I have to ask, how long will it take before we actually start seeing the improvement on the park?
      After the January transfer window we had another mass exodus of players leaving and coming in. We have fielded more players this season than we have played games, and it has been another year of rebuilding due to management failures. I dread to think how many players we have had on our books since we were promoted to the Premier league in 2014 and the amount of money we may have wasted by getting players with long term contract off the books. Surely the board need to have a long hard think about the transfer policies and willingness to back managers in this way.
      We practically have a whole new team from the one which started the first game of the season. Gone are many so called McCann duds and McIntyre seems to have been prudent in his transfers, mostly on loan players who seem an upgrade on the departing players. Yes there are signs of improvement since January, but it still seems that we are no more organised in defence and over the last two games we have shipped eight goals.
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