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Dundee 1 Kilmarnock 1: Déjà vu at Dens

In the week the Commonwealth Games ended there was a hint at Dens Park yesterday of the national sport mirroring some of what was on show in Glasgow, with Dundee displaying enough style to capture the imagination and Kilmarnock earning equal plaudits for maximising their abilities to full effectiveness.

Gary Harkins acknowledges the cheers of the fans after scoring   Photograph: SNS
Gary Harkins acknowledges the cheers of the fans after scoring Photograph: SNS

It was a delightful day for pretty much any form of sport and this was an encounter that offered cause for opening day encouragement all round. The hosts reinforced the pre-season impression that Paul Hartley, their manager, has recruited well while the visitors were deserving of the praise their boss Allan Johnston delivered for picking up a point they might not have in the closing months of last season.

With some tipping them to be top-six contenders on this latest return to the top flight, Dundee were clearly determined to ensure that all those among the healthy support who turned up to watch the Championship flag unfurled, as well as the new campaign get under way, become regular attendees.

In the party assembled to perform those pre-match honours was Gavin Rae, who had marked the end of his third spell with the club in a fitting manner as the Championship-winning captain. After the dust had settled on a satisfactory opener, another man who has twice returned to Dens, Gary Harkins - scorer of his side's goal yesterday - announced that he was confident of further good times to come.

"I think it is a better team (than previous Dundee teams he has played in) if you look at it on paper and the way that we've played. I think we've got some really good players and hopefully we can drive on from this and start picking up wins," he said.

"I'm loving it. It's good to be in a role where the people behind you are picking you out when you're in the pockets of space you want to be in. I'm enjoying it so far."

He would have done so that bit more on this particular occasion if he or one of his team-mates could have converted more of their opportunities than the penalty he earned and expertly converted to put them ahead, rewarding their bright start to the game.

While it looked like a penalty, as Mark Connolly brought Harkins down, Johnston was slightly querulous in suggesting that his club's former player has a knack of drawing such awards.

"The penalty looked soft, I don't think there was much contact," said the Kilmarnock manager. "We've seen some of the highlights from pre-season as well, some of the other games where there didn't seem much contact either and he went down very easily.

"There was slight contact, but you can't dive into players like that if you know the players you're playing against and their reputation."

Regardless of the merits of his gripe, Johnston's men responded to their setback in the right way.

Dundee had already had a couple of lucky escapes, including when Tope Obadeyi's effort rebounded off the underside of the crossbar before bouncing clear, before a high-class equaliser brought the visitors level.

James McPake dived fairly desperately into Obadeyi on the edge of the penalty box to concede a foul and Craig Slater curled the resultant free kick round the wall with his right foot and inside Kyle Letheren's left-hand post.

Kilmarnock's ascendancy continued until half-time, but it was a very different story thereafter. The tone was set by a Harkins solo run within seconds of the resumption as he drew the first of many excellent saves from Craig Samson, with the Dundee scorer and team-mate Paul McGowan the tormentors in chief.

Samson, like his counterpart Letheren, had cause to be grateful to the woodwork when Peter MacDonald tried his luck from a set-piece after he had been fouled, but it would have been cruel had that been the game's last act.

In summation, Hartley was entitled to his view that if they continue in the same fashion, his new-look Dundee team will do just fine this season. He said: "I think we created enough chances to win it, but we've got to keep working in the same manner with the same belief and I'm sure that the points will come."

Johnston was equally justified in drawing satisfaction from the outcome. "What you take from the second half is the way we defended," he said. "The boys showed some steel. Last year we'd have lost there, but they were defending like their lives depended on it. It's a point gained, though, because it's a hard place to come."

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