T HE Barry Smith era at Dundee came to a traumatic end, if hardly an unexpected one.
Not for the first time this season, there had been dire warnings about the manager's immediate job prospects in the wake of last Friday night's Clydesdale Bank Premier League defeat by Aberdeen, but shock and anguish were still the dominant emotions after his 17-year relationship with the club was brought to a brutal close yesterday.
Indeed, the scenes around the club following the demise of the man who took over an administration-ravaged outfit in October 2010 and defied a 25-point Scottish Football League penalty, were not too dissimilar to those which provided a backdrop his installation as manager.
"It hurts everyone," said defender Matt Lockwood, a veteran of those dark administration days. "Once the news broke all the girls in the office were crying because they have known Barry all that time. It is an emotional day because the boys genuinely liked the manager – it wasn't a case of 'oh I'm glad he's gone'.
"They felt like they had let him down, and on days like this it is not a nice business to be in. You need to have a thick skin, because there is no respite. You lose your manager today and then in four days' time you are expected to turn up at Parkhead and take on the reigning champions who are through to the knockout stages in Europe; it doesn't come much tougher.
"But football is a results-orientated business and, when you look at the league, there is probably no argument to say he should stay in the job. When any manager leaves a club or gets sacked it is the players fault: we are the ones who dictate how managers do in their careers. If we had been mid-table and doing alright, Barry would still be in his job. But the fact we haven't been performing on the pitch has caused the manager to lose his job."
Not that there was not mitigation to be had. Although he had the January transfer window to do something about it, Smith's biggest problem seemed to be the fact that his team were in the wrong division.
Amid the myriad machinations and manoeuvrings of Scotland's league bodies as Rangers imploded last summer, it was well into the 11th hour before Dundee were confirmed as 'Club 12', meaning that players Smith had originally envisaged as first division promotion contenders were suddenly expected to compete in the top flight. The disparity was only emphasised when Dundee demolished Morton, the leaders of the Irn-Bru first division, in the William Hill Scottish Cup.
"If what happened with Rangers hadn't happened then, realistically, we would be at the top of the first division," Lockwood said. "A couple of weeks ago we played Morton – who are five points clear at the top of the first division – and we beat them 5-1. When you look at that you do think it is harsh, because we didn't deserve to be in the SPL; we got in by default, yet Barry lost his job because of that. At the start of the season it was really hard to get things in place. In saying that the manager has brought in lots of players to try to improve things since we have been up."
Ray Farningham, Smith's assistant, and goalkeeper coach Bobby Geddes will take charge of training for now, and could yet take the club into Sunday's meeting with Celtic at Parkhead. Jimmy Calderwood tops a list of contenders to replace Smith, at least on an interim basis, but Lockwood is sure there will be no shortage of applicants for the post. Dundee might be 15 points adrift at the bottom of the table, but have a Scottish Cup quarter-final against city rivals United to look forward to. "As far as we are aware, Ray is going to be in charge," said Lockwood. "But it is an attractive job; Dundee are a big club and potentially it could be a club which could be in the SPL competing to be in that top six each year.
"Nothing underhand has been done behind the last manager's back, we will just see who the best candidate is, whether it is short term or long term. I can guarantee there will be a list as long as your arm of people applying. We are 15 points back and there is goal difference as well, but if you go on a run – win three or four out of five, which gives you a bit of hope, then play the teams around you – it is not impossible.
"Football is a funny old game where you never know what is around the corner, but on current form and over the course of the season it hasn't been good enough and that is ultimately what has cost Barry his job."