THE winter break could not come quickly enough.
The Clydesdale Bank Premier League will today begin a two-week breather but the first match of the new year came to resemble the last day of term, with neither St Johnstone nor Dundee able to offer anything productive.
A narrow win has taken the Perth side into the top six but it was given a muted fanfare, with a Liam Craig goal a rare bright spot on a dull afternoon. Dundee will just be pleased to be out of the spotlight for a couple of weeks. The arrival of a new year tends to be viewed as an opportunity to make a fresh start, but the Dens Park side appear to be shackled to the inadequacies that made the first half of the season so uncomfortable.
The nine-point chasm which exists between them and Ross County is accounted for in the league table – Dundee have now conceded 41 goals and scored just 13 during a forlorn campaign – but it is perhaps more instructive to say that they do not seem to have it in them to redress the balance.
Granted, Rab Douglas will feel he was fouled when St Johnstone took the lead after 33 minutes yesterday but slack defending was more injurious. Gregory Tade scuffed a low cross towards goal and Peter Pawlett was invited to give chase by a static defence, his challenge on Douglas causing the ball to break free to the feet of Craig, who prodded it into the net.
The St Johnstone midfielder is a consistent and effective player, and his performances and availability have also been noted by Hibernian. His goal yesterday brought a somewhat apologetic finish – which was appropriate given the aesthetic of the game – but a neat flick minutes later to send Pawlett scampering in behind merited a more assured touch from the on-loan Aberdeen winger.
It was a half-chance at best but such moments drew greater significance given the dearth of opportunities either side created during the rest of the afternoon. Declan Gallagher might have given Dundee an early lead had he connected with a teasing corner from Jim McAlister, while Rowan Vine and Nigel Hasselbaink both squeezed shots wide for the home side. "It's been a pretty hectic schedule recently and it wasn't a classic by any stretch of the imagination," said Steve Lomas, the St Johnstone manager. "Some people maybe lost the will to live . . . and I was nearly joining them."
That was a wry remark but one which will have felt easy to make given it had been prefaced by three points. The defeat will give few at Dundee much cause to smile as they reflect on an unsavoury start to the season but their attention will also turn to the injury suffered by Stephen O'Donnell early in the second half. The midfielder has been made to endure both injury and illness already this season and he seems certain to spend another lengthy spell out, with initial fears being that he has suffered knee ligament damage.
"He's had a really hard time for the past four months and in his third game back something bad has potentially happened to him," said Barry Smith, the Dundee manager, who responded philosophically to the news that some fans held up a placard calling for his dismissal. "I am gutted for him. It looks serious."