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Dundee 0-1 Partick Thistle 1/3/17
Deefiant! Former Dens Park Favourite Gary Irvine Reflects On The Day Neil Mccann Came Out Of Retirement For Administration-Hit DundeeBy UWTB1893
And the former Dee favourite reckons the rookie boss can be their saviour again after answering another SOS from Tayside.
Plenty of heroes were created during the ‘Deefiant’ campaign in 2010/11, as Barry Smith’s side somehow recovered from a 25-point deduction, swathing budget cuts and a signing embargo to retain their Championship status.
However, the fairytale intervention by McCann that season was something special. At 36 years of age, having been retired for three years and already a pundit with Sky, he returned as a trialist in a league match against Raith Rovers – and scored a 90th-minute winner.
Irvine still recalls the wild celebrations that followed the strike and reckons it summed up their great escape – a spirit which Dundee would do well to rediscover, with five games to salvage their top-flight status.
He smiled: “When anyone asks me about my memories of Dundee, that is one that always springs to mind. It was such a difficult season, we were pulling trialists in from everywhere because of the signing embargo, and he actually came out of retirement just to help us out.
“We were struggling to make up the numbers some weeks, and Neilly came in, despite having his work with Sky.
“He was great in training, really fit and then he came on as a substitute and scored a wee looping goal against Raith – you couldn’t write it.
“He took off towards the supporters and the whole place went wild, the celebrations were unreal. Everyone just piled on top of Neil!
“I’ve been lucky enough to win leagues with Dundee, but that moment stands out because it just summed up how hard that season was – needing someone to come out of retirement – but how we somehow found a way to get over the line.”
Irvine believes that decision to dust off his boots illustrated McCann’s love for Dundee, for whom he starred between 1992 and 1996, and has no doubt that will give him a burning desire to succeed after taking the top job on an interim basis.
Irvine added: “It’s a tricky job for anyone going in there and, given Neil has a good gig at Sky, it would have been easy for him to say no. For the second time now, Dundee have come calling and he has said yes without hesitation.
“That speaks volumes for the passion he has for the club and I’m sure he’ll be getting that across to the players.”
While swapping the TV studios for the dugout may seem a left-field move – and proved an ill-fated one when Gary Neville joined Valencia – Irvine reckons McCann’s punditry pedigree will actually be a massive positive.
Irvine, himself eyeing another escape from the drop with St Mirren, added: “He knows the game inside-out from his work with Sky, he knows the oppositions and can go straight in there with fresh ideas, while already knowing the club itself.
“He is a great character and his knowledge of the game is second to none. Hopefully he gets the right reaction and they get out of that mess because, just like Neil, I still have a lot of affection for Dundee.”
And, in the wake of seven straight defeats that have plunged Dundee down to the relegation play-off place, he accepts he should be.
But the Canadian international has assured Dark Blues fans every member of the squad is fighting tooth and nail to get to safety.
It’s been a horrific time for Haber and his team-mates as they’ve gone from top-six contenders to the side pundits are tipping for the drop.
The board, though, have taken measures they think will prevent that by bringing in McCann.
For Haber, despite the disappointment of seeing Hartley lose his job, it’s a case of all hands to the pump to help McCann keep the club in the division.
“Everyone is committed to the cause, everyone is fighting for the team and the club. That’s never going to change,” said the 27-year-old.
“Right now it’s all about sticking to what we know we’re capable of and trying to get results to turn things round. We know we can do that and we will.”
He takes strength from the fact when he signed up at Dens back in October, initially on a short-term contract that’s since become a two-year deal, the team were bottom of the table.
That situation worsened when Dundee went down 2-0 to Partick on his debut but there followed an immediate and impressive recovery that got the team back into mid-table by the turn of the year.
And while the current horrible run of defeats has seen them plummet back down to second bottom, he believes another comeback is on the cards during the post-split fixtures.
“We’ve shown we can beat most teams in this league and put together a run of results.
“We have the players to do that, for sure. It’s about getting the majority of the team playing well again and we can do that.
“Right now we might lack a bit of confidence, that’s normal from these types of results we’ve had. But we need to stick together as a group and we should be OK.”
During this run the emphasis has been on putting each defeat behind them as quickly as possible and focusing on the next game but Haber concedes the players have to learn from the mistakes that have been made over the last month-and-a-half.
And he doesn’t disguise the feeling of frustration over what is a self-inflicted crisis.
“I think you look at the individual mistakes and collectively you have to look at the 90 minutes of each game and see where we need to improve.
“There will always be incidences throughout the 90 minutes that can change the course of the game and you need to look at that bigger picture and work on those areas.
“On Saturday against Hamilton we came into the game confident and to try to take some points, so we were disappointed with the result and how we conceded the goals as well.
“Giving away a penalty is hard to take and the late goal from a set-piece was disappointing, too.
“We’d set up in a way of playing because we wanted to be more attacking, especially at home and create more chances.
“We started the game decent, had a few half-chances, got into some good areas but it just didn’t work for us.
“It’s a game of inches. It just takes that extra bit of quality in the final third, that bit of class, and I think that’s what we’re lacking right now.”
The former St Johnstone captain, who started his career at Dens Park, thought Paul Hartley would have kept his old club in the Premiership.
And the fact that the Dark Blues have gone for a rookie manager to replace him has surprised the Stirling Albion boss.
“I’m sure Dundee will still be fine but it is obviously a real concern being dragged into the bottom two,” he said.
“Six weeks ago it looked as if they might have been the team to pip Partick Thistle for the final spot in the top six. But they have been on a terrible slide, losing seven in a row.
“It can be difficult to get out of runs like that and obviously it has cost Paul Hartley his job.
“The timing of the change was a surprise. They weren’t in a great situation but it wasn’t the end of the world. There are a lot of teams within touching distance. One win takes them out of second bottom spot.
“It is difficult bringing anyone so late in the day. I think they’d have been better sticking with what they had with only five games left. Paul would probably have got them out of it.
“But they are obviously hoping Neil brings something fresh to give them a lift but it is a gamble.”
Mackay added: “Obviously Neil was a very experienced player and he has been watching Scottish football as a television pundit. He isn’t coming into the unknown.
“It wouldn’t have been such a surprise if the appointment had been made at a different time of the season.
“But normally clubs go for fire fighters and the tried and tested in these circumstances.
“It might work a treat for Dundee but it’s certainly some challenge for Neil going into his first managerial post given the situation Dundee are in.
“It was only natural people would question the appointment because Neil doesn’t have much managerial experience.
“He was in training at St Johnstone keeping himself fit for a few months when Derek McInnes was manager.
“I hope he does well. He is a nice guy, a great pro and I have a lot of time for Neil. And it is a good opportunity for a young Scottish manager.”
Mackay will forever be remembered as Saints’ first Scottish Cup-winning skipper but seeing both Dundee clubs playing second tier football next season isn’t a scenario he would wish for.
“It would be terrible for Dundee as a city if they had two clubs out of the Premiership,” he said. “It would be bad for Scottish football because they are both big clubs with big supports.
“But as we have seen with Hibs, Hearts and Rangers, you aren’t too big to lose your place at the top level.
“If a club isn’t good enough over the course of a season they don’t deserve to stay up.
“And for teams going down now it is harder than ever to get back up. It’s not easy to bounce back right away.
“From what I hear the Americans seem to be the type of people that are committed to the club. I don’t think they will cut and run if Dundee do go down.
“They have put a lot of money in already and have plans for a training ground and potentially a stadium to take the club forward.”
Alex D'Acol and Mikey Devlin both scored for Hamilton as they beat Dundee 2-0 at Dens Park in the SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership as the battle to beat the drop intensified. Defeat for Dundee was their seventh in a row as they slipped into the relegation playoff place.