The Dark Blues made two changes to the side that lost at Firhill on Wednesday. Mark O’Hara and Faissal El Bakhatoui came in for Darren O’Dea and James Vincent. There were three changes to the St Johnstone team that drew at home to Rangers. Murray Davidson, Danny Swanson and Liam Craig replaced David Wotherspoon, Chris Millar and Graham Cummins.
Saints started the game on the front foot and the first few minutes were spent entirely in the Dark Blues’ half. Once Dundee got their game going they quickly looked dangerous, with some good movement, running and passing as they attacked. Faissal El Bakhatoui was looking skillful and confident, and he put the Dee ahead after 14 minutes at the end of a swift counter attack. Julen Etxabegerun won the ball 30 yards from Dundee’s goal. Mark O’Hara and Paul McGowan quickly switched play forward to Marcus Haber wide on the right. He hit a hard, low cross beyond Brian Easton’s despairing lunge and EL BAKHTAOUI swept the ball past Zander Clark at the near post.
St Johnstone might have found a quick equaliser from Blair Alston’s 30 yard free kick, but the ball rebounded from the crossbar and the Dee escaped. After that let off play swung from end to end with Tom Hateley shooting too high from Marcus Haber’s knock down and Murray Davidson sending a diving header over the bar from Richard Foster’s dangerous cross. Saints were never again as close to scoring as Dundee’s defence put in a sterling performance in the absence of skipper O’Dea.
St Johnstone settled into a lengthy spell in which they dominated possession without troubling Dundee while the Dark Blues always looked capable of creating danger on the break and from set pieces.
Saints had survived a few hairy moments from Dundee crosses, but on 42 minutes there was no escape. Tom Hateley’s free kick was cleared only as far as Paul McGowan who knocked it back into the penalty area. Marcus Haber played a delightful pass with his chest to Kosta GADZHALOV in space, and the defender had time to take aim before lashing a ferocious scoring shot past Clark.
The second half got off to a frantic start with both sides looking dangerous. A long range Hateley shot broke to Haber, 10 yards from goal, but a quick challenge by Easton diverted the shot over the crossbar. Chris Kane had come on for Saints at the start of the half, replacing Liam Craig, and his shot took a huge deflection that forced Bain to move smartly to touch the looping ball over the bar.
St Johnstone were still very much in the game, and if they had scored at this stage the result might have been very different. Happily it was the Dee who notched the next goal after 56 minutes, and that more or less sealed the win.
Mark O’Hara made a huge contribution to that vital third goal which put the match beyond Saints. Paul Paton tried to spring a counter attack, but O’Hara nailed him with an excellent tackle. He had the presence of mind to leap to his feet and play Tom Hateley into space on the right. Hateley drove a fierce low cross into the goalmouth and, with Marcus Haber lurking, Steven Anderson lunged at the ball, diverting it past Clark and into his own net.
Both goalkeepers then had to pull off good saves from long range shots in quick succession; Zander Clark foiled Paul McGowan, and Scott Bain turned away Murray Davidson’s powerful effort from 25 yards.
St Johnstone became increasingly desperate to try and get back into the game, but Dundee’s defence held firm. When Dundee did break forward they always looked capable of adding to their lead. El Bakhtaoui was revelling in the extra space once St Johnstone started chasing a goal. He showed lovely skill to make space, and his dipping, swerving shot from 22 yards brought a fine save from Clark.
Nick Ross replaced Mark O’Hara for the last 16 minutes, and the home fans rose to their feet to applaud the efforts of the young midfielder, who had demonstrated his value to the team with a display full of energy, power and also skill. After his lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury and an impressive amount of hard running it was no surprise to see him eased out of the action.
Saints kept plugging away, but Dundee’s defence offered them nothing. Brian Easton sent a powerful header from a corner a couple of feet wide. Yet another fast break out of defence by Dundee ended with Haber dummying over El Bakhtaoui’s pass and freeing McGowan, who shot wide from the edge of the penalty area when he should perhaps have taken a touch to steady himself.
Three minutes from full time Faissal El Bakhtaoui was withdrawn to another standing ovation. The Frenchman has always looked a good footballer, but today he was highly effective and delighted the fans with his cheeky skills and clever link-up play.
Dundee certainly played well today, but St Johnstone were nowhere near as bad as the scoreline suggests in an enjoyable match. They had lots of the ball, but struggled to do much with it against a determined defence that never lost its shape or concentration. Dundee on the other hand were able to move the ball quickly and effectively through the midfield, in stark contrast to the defeat against Partick Thistle, and often had Saints defence on the back foot.
Games between Dundee and St Johnstone are usually very close, and Dundee’s win was the biggest in this fixture since Saints’ 7-2 New Years Day win 20 years ago. You have to go back 35 years to find the last time that the Dark Blues won by three goals. The margin of victory might have been harsh on Saints, but Dundee used their more limited possession much more impressively, took their chances well and defended superbly. The clean sheet was particularly pleasing after Darren O’Dea had to call off. Today’s win was the perfect way to sign off the year and go into the mid-season break on a high.
Dundee FC 4-2-3-1
Kerr Etxabeguren, Gadzhalov, Holt
Hateley, McGowan (c)
El Bakhtaoui, O’Hara, Wighton
Unused subs: Mitchell (gk), Loy, Duffy, Williams, Ross, Curran, Waddell.
Goals: El Bakhtaoui (14), Gadzhalov (42) (Anderson o.g. 56).
Booked: Kerr (foul on Swanson).
St Johnstone 4-5-1
Foster, Shaughnessy, Anderson (c), Easton
Swanson, Paton (Wotherspoon 61), Davidson, Alston, Craig (Kane at half time)
MacLean (Cummins 71)
Unused subs: Mannus (gk), Scobbie, Millar, Watson.
Booked: Paton (foul on O’Hara), Swanson (foul on Kerr).
Attendance: 6,492 (1,523 Saints fans).
Referee: Don Robertson. Assistants: Alan Mulvanny, Ivan Stankovic. 4th official: Greig Aitken.
Report: James Christie.