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Upturn In Form Or Relegation Form?


barkblue

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Looking back, as I have been, over Dundee FC’s 1996-97 season for the occasional ‘from the scrapbooks’ blogs, it’s difficult to take in the turmoil the club was going through at the time. Having just missed out on silverware the year before, top players (Morten Weighorst, Neil McCann, Jim Hamilton) had been sold to balance the books. With erstwhile owner, Ron Dixon, often so far out of the Dens Park loop that the remaining board members couldn’t find him and beleaguered boss Jim Duffy finally having enough of bailing out his DFC charges and heading off to Hibernian (and taking Chic Charnley, Paul Tosh and Lee Power with him), stability was in short supply. On the park, the aforementioned Charnley had been sent off in a 7-2 reverse for allegedly ‘lamping’ his own team mate, in what was John McCormack’s first game in charge, while the arrival of lower league goal machine Eddie Annand still couldn’t refuel the Dark Blue’s title tilt – or even their play-off push.

It was a crazy time but I’d argue that this season has been equally maddening, saddening and ridiculous. A fact all the more bewildering when you factor in that off the park we have been, arguably, as stable as we ever have across the past four decades. A manager has been handed his jotters, we’ve built and then destroyed an entire new squad and then assembled another one. We’ve offered the first boss of the season a mentor just days before punting him and the new man at the helm wanted to be assisted by a guy who can maybe best be described as Dark Blue public enemy number one. And don’t even get us started about the on field guff we’ve been asked to endure. 

Neil McCann made Dens Park a sanctuary for the untried tippy-tappy underachievers from home and abroad. A remarkably one dimensional squad created with no goal threat and absolutely zero ability to keep the round thing out of the net at the other end. 

Over and above that, individual errors – missed back passes, missed penalties, missed sitters and defenders being posted missing, meaning that Dundee seemed to miss the point – and the points – almost every week under Cardie-man’s reign. His time had come, but we stumbled on and on and on… Experience was required and when it didn’t appear in the guise of Jim Jefferies (how many near misses can you have??), it arrived in the shape of ex-DAB and wee Billy’s best mate in football, Jim McIntyre.

Taking control to the theme tune of Orange Juice’s ‘Rip It Up (And Start Again)’, McIntyre initially tinkered and toiled with players who were either clearly not good enough or clearly not interested enough to turn around our fortunes. With a full first team’s worth of players either frozen out, or out on loan, the transfer window opened and players began being pushed through it, as others clambered in. 

A new keeper, two new centre backs (one who got injured immediately…) a new right back. One, no two, make that three, four, maybe five midfielders arrived and a strike threat and battering ram partner also made an entrance. And yet still The General made all the headlines as he battered in a goal at Tynecastle and gifted points away on an almost weekly basis at the other end. Call it what you want, but losing last minute equalisers at Hamilton, missing a last minute game winning penalty at home to Killie, gifting Hibs four goals – and outplaying them for long stretches of a game – can only be called one thing: Relegation Form. 

Going to Ibrox is never easy, but with McIntyre exposing his inability to know whether to stick or twist (we didn’t defend in numbers and we didn’t support the front men well, so what exactly did we do???), the 4-0 drubbing was more worrying than a usual Glasgow disaster should be. With Hamilton and St Mirren suddenly hitting some sort of form, as we let what little impetus we had built up all too easily slip away, the signs are not good.

However, from the appointment of Neil McCann, to the assembling of a squad of gifted footballers that had no idea how to win games. From the third massive turnaround of players in two seasons (let’s not even look at Hartley’s latter days) to the club, once again, writing the manual on how not to appoint a manager, and not forgetting the Glen Kamara transfer debacle, this season has been an abject lesson in how not to build stability on the park, or to cement a place in the top flight.

Hence, the real surprise, is that we still have our destiny in our own hands. We still have Hamilton and St Mirren to play often enough between now and the end of the season that ‘6 points’ will regularly be up for grabs. 

We have undoubtedly improved under McIntyre. In fact I’d say without him we’d already be as good as relegated. We do seem to now know where the goal is and do seem to be able to compete against most teams in the league. What we have to do now is shake off the ‘relegation form’ and turn draws into wins and learn how to keep it tight when we have to. We also need to stamp out individual errors – yes I’m looking at you Genseric. 

Jim McIntyre himself has said we are in for a roller coaster ride right up until the closing day of the season. Was it ever any different?


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