OK children. Term is over and it’s time to bring your games to school so we can all unwind after what has been a long, uneventfully eventful and stress filled year. But who achieved their desired marks in the end of year exams and who will be afraid to show their Mum their report card?
It may not be where the glamour lies, but if one area of Dundee’s performances summed up our season it was the back four. Or five. Or was it a three with wing backs. Or…ask Mr. McCann, he knows… sometimes…
Although the men behind that ever changing rearguard didn’t get off Scott free either…
The Dee’s are known for having had some great keepers over the years and in Scott Bain we nearly had another. A great debut season was followed by a less convincing second, but with a section of support vocal in their criticism of Bain’s ability to turn simple situations into panic stations, while dropping his defence in the muck with questionable distribution, relations quickly soured. Rumours abound as to whether it was a disagreement with Neil McCann that caused him to be shipped out to the development team bench, or if there were dressing room fisticuffs, but either way it was the beginning of the end. Looking at the bigger picture, Bain’s form had seriously dipped and he had begun to look like he’d rather be anywhere other than Dens Park - and to be fair to him, with a whistle-stop tour of Scotland that’s exactly what he got. A brief spell at Hibs followed by a loan to Celtic found him winning medals and a four year deal with the Champions. Somehow this has left the keeper in dreamland and most Dee’s scratching their head in a variety of different ways.
The beneficiary of all that turmoil was English back-up goalie Elliott Parish, the lad who’d spent the year getting splinters in his behind finding himself thrust into first team action. Initially things looked a little sticky with a few questionable shots only stopped by the net behind him – anything low and near his body a particular weakness. However as the season reached squeaky bum time, Parish’s organisation and passion for the cause saw him become an integral part of the team. While his late in the day penalty save from Hamilton’s Dougie Imrie proved vital in staving off relegation and the possibility of a playoff spot – as well as being utterly hilarious! Overall the jury is still out on the charismatic keeper.
A substitute appearance at Ibrox in a game where we were already knee deep into the process of imploding wasn’t the best introduction to the first team for young Calum Ferrie but a final day bow against Partick showed he has a lot of promise. With both Ferrie and the highly rated Kyle Gourlay signed up for next year, and an appearance clause in Parish’s contract triggering a one year extension it looked likely that the manager should be able to save some of his budget for elsewhere in his squad. If it wasn’t for the fact we’ve just signed Jack Hamilton from Hearts!
Leaving Jeremy Malherbe. A man who came, saw, got injured, couldn’t get his place back on the bench and then tweeted out his thanks for his time at the club. Leaving it hard to view the Frenchman as anything other than a waste of a wage. Thanks Jeremy, it’s been, well, not much really.
END OF SEASON REPORT CARD
Scott Bain - D
Elliott Parish - C+
Calum Ferrie - too early to tell, but based on one game - B
Jeremy Malherbe - Who?
If there was turmoil between the sticks, then what happened just in front of them was worthy of its own storyline in Hotshot Hamish. Arguably it was the manager’s inability to decide on formation and tactics at the back that shaped the early part of the season and resulted in a lot of the ridiculously soft goals we shipped during that time. Things did calm down a little, but right the way through to the final day of 2017/18 most of the goals we lost felt remarkably soft and stoppable.
If you include the ‘are they full backs, are they wing backs?’ pairing of Cammy Kerr and Kevin Holt, who both arguably played centre back at certain points through the season, Dundee had an eye watering 11 (eleven) different players try to shore up the centre of our defence. That in itself tells a story. Admittedly Holt and Kerr only made a handful of appearances in that role and both as part of a central three, with both doing pretty well in a slightly unfamiliar role.
Very much the forgotten man, ‘The Relegator’, Kostadin Gadzhalov, only appeared in pre-season friendlies, ending up at Brechin City on loan after an early season injury, but a similar fate befell the likeable defender at Glebe Park and resulted in the season being a complete write off for a player who has gone down in Dark Blue history. Equally inconsequential was the man of chocolate, otherwise known as Julan Extabugeran, the clearly talented, if temperamental, defender managing only one substitute appearance in a vital away win in Perth. He did OK that day, but injury before and then again after sums up the player’s time at Dens. Thanks lads… see ya!
The heart of our defence just the season before, Darren O’Dea had a much less positive impact early doors this time round. Rash challenges, hot headed confrontations and a worrying lack of pace causing the club captain to watch much of the season from, on a good day, the bench, or, on a not so good day, the stand. It looked like a sad, terminal decline, but when the chips are down fighters come out fighting and DO’D proved to be a championship heavyweight. Ready for battle and willing to play when not fully fit, O’Dea was a shining example of the spirit we all too often lacked earlier in the campaign. Although it’s hard to shake off the feeling that next season might be a stretch too far for the big defender.
Of course, what we did have earlier in the season was future Scotland international Jack Hendry. An absolute revelation in the heart of an ever changing defence, Jack’s calm ability to carry the ball out of the back-line, while making immaculately timed interceptions, immediately marked him out as a player of real class and quality. But it is worth remembering that we still gifted ridiculously stupid goals during his brief time at the club and managed to ship three at home to Hamilton. So it wasn’t all rosy in the garden and the manner in which he jumped ship to Celtic Park after mere moments at Dens means I personally won’t remember Oor Jack all that fondly.
Early season displays and a few vital goals won Kerr Waddell the Young Player Of The Year award and quite rightly so. The surprise however being that it wasn’t him but young Daniel Jefferies who came off the bench late in the season against Hamilton when we needed to shore up the rearguard to grasp those last three points needed to keep us safe from relegation. Being horribly exposed by his midfield after a quick Accies' throw in, Daniel had Elliot Parish to thank for saving the day – and the resultant penalty – after a horribly mistimed tackle deep in our own box made for a debut to forget. When his name was nowhere to be seen on the team sheet for the Ross County game a few days later, it looked like the youngster had been thrown under the bus. However a solid performance, if one punctuated by lapses in concentration, against Partick Thistle on the final day, suggests that between Kerr and Daniel we might just have a strong, young defensive partnership in the making.
Already securing a contract for next season is Josh Meekings, and if any one player sums up the extremes of this campaign it’s the ex-Inverness Caledonian Thistle man. Signed after proving his fitness at the start of the season, some solid early displays were followed by a levelling out of performance that eventually dipped into worryingly inept territory. Costly individual errors characterised his last few games before his season ended as it had began, on the recovery table. With Josh clearly seen as part of our short, long term future, it’s hard to shake off the immortal phrase… ‘A good signing, if fit…’
With the midnight madness of transfer day leaving us Hendry-less, big changes lay ahead. First in the door was the Angolan Genséric Kusunga; the imposing figure making a good impression as he slowly settled into the pace and physicality of the Scottish game. As most players are at the level Dundee operate at, the energetic centre back, who likes a battle and is more than willing to put his body on the line, is prone to the odd crazy moment; leaving a ball he should have cut out, or sometimes lacking communication with those about him. Oddly he also looks remarkably unsure-footed at times as he struggles to get the ball under control, but in a season that’s been shaped by left-field signings, The General has been one of the better ones.
However the most left field of all may well have been Steven Caulker, the defender arriving at Dens with English top flight pedigree from his time with Liverpool, Spurs and Southampton, but also with demons from his past. Another mountain of a man, Caulker has however been a remarkably calming influence in the Dundee defence and after getting up to match fitness may well be the best defender we’ve seen at Dens for a few decades. Faultless in the air, composed on the ground and an undoubted leader, after a shaky start he’s been an absolute joy to watch and few would argue that in Hendry’s departure, Neil McCann somehow managed to go out and sign a better stopper. Will he be here next season? Well, he clearly bought into the cause and undoubtedly enjoyed his time on the park in Dundee, so while it might seem unlikely, let’s believe there’s still a flicker of hope…
In the wider defensive positions, whether as a proper full back, or wing back, Cammy Kerr had a down and up season. Made vice-captain, O’Dea’s fitness, suspension and form battles found the young Dee more often than not leading the troops into battle and it did seem to be a little too much too soon for the boy who bleeds dark blue. Not until we hit the final third of the season did we really see the fierce tackling, hard running, chance creating full back that won last season’s POTY - and to be fair, his cross for Moussa’s last gasp winner against St.Johnstone was a season highlight – but until that stage it really was a season of indifference from the clearly talented and dedicated full back. Confused by the systems being employed, low on confidence and clearly shackled in an attacking sense by the role he was asked to carry out, nearly all of the positives of Cammy’s game were stripped away and for a while he couldn’t even hold down a regular spot in the team. Thankfully his late season form shows there’s still a player in there and one worth persevering with for some time to come.
Other right WB’s came and went, Jesse Curran too lightweight to be deployed so deep, Mark O’Hara much more comfortable attacking than defending, while sometimes being posted missing in the wide role. Whereas, in all honesty, Roarie Deacon really needs someone to sit him down and explain the concept of defending to him.
On the other side the tussle between the Derry (and Main Stand and Bobby Cox) boo-boy Kevin Holt and the Catalan maestro Jon Aurtenetxe was an intriguing battle, and one that the ex-Queen Of The South man (so not ‘Spanish Jon’ then…) probably won on points. Few players have suffered the ire of the Dundee support in recent years like Kevin Holt, but if you want a player to slide into a last ditch tackle and put his body on the line to stop a shot, then he’s your man. That he’s also the guy on the park most likely to get in a fankle when under no pressure whatsoever and gift an utterly ridiculous goal or two, proved big Kev was never shy at stepping up for that too…
His left back competitor may well be one of the more ponderous enigmas to be seen in dark blue for many a year. Why a player with top flight Spanish experience and with a European club final behind him even ended up in Dundee is anyone’s guess, but whatever the issues that heralded his unexpected arrival, the initial signs that McCann had captured a composed, stylish defender, soon frittered away. While never less than steady, Jon seemed to let too many games pass him by and while he was always liable to pick out a killer pass to a striker, watching players ghost past him out wide as his one paced approached came unstuck against Scottish endeavour, was painful to say the least.
In the end no one can be that surprised than neither were asked to extend their stay at Dens, although the longer serving of the two might prove harder to replace than many believe. And as for the Holt hater at the Q&A with the gaffer, the less said the better…
END OF SEASON REPORT CARD
Darren O’Dea - Based on the first half of the season - E Based on the last quarter - B+ Overall, a D+
Kostadin Ghadzalov - The Relegator! - F
Julen Extebeguren - F
Kerr Waddell - C-
Josh Meekings - C-
Jack Hendry - B+
Steven Caulker - A-
Genseric Kusunga - B
Daniel Jefferies - Based on very little game time - C-
Cammy Kerr - C+
Kevin Holt - C+
Jon Aurtenetxe - C-
(other players mentioned spent more of their time in midfield and will be handed their report card in the next instalment)