Michael Gardyne's stoppage-time equaliser, which ripped high into the net after Jon Daly headed Stuart Armstrong's deep delivery across goal, was sore for Dundee, given that they were on the brink of not only a valuable point in their fight against relegation but also a first derby victory since November 2004. Yet manager John Brown was hurt more by another Gardyne incision, made quietly and without drama, during the aftermath of this draw.
Asked about the dismissal of Gary Irvine, a former team-mate of his at both Celtic and Ross County, after 20 minutes of this absorbing contest, the United goalscorer suggested that the defender was "taking bodies for fun", having been instructed to do so.
He had a point. Afforded the armband in the absence of Rab Douglas, Irvine was roused by the responsibility. Too roused, in fact. The right-back benefited from Bobby Madden's leniency inside the opening few seconds, escaping serious sanction for scything down Gary Mackay-Steven, but his derby would last only a further 19 minutes. Irvine breenged recklessly into an aerial challenge with Richie Ryan, leading with an arm and sending the United midfielder spinning to the turf. The ensuing red card – not the one he wanted on his 28th birthday – might have been a touch harsh, but it was entirely justifiable from the referee's perspective.
Brown, perhaps unexpectedly, concurred with that but, when appraised of Gardyne's comments, his mood changed. "Michael wants to have a look at himself," growled the Dundee manager. "It's a contact sport and the referee dealt with it. I asked my boys not to let good players have time. Not to kick them."
Perhaps, but Dundee did adopt what one might call a robust approach. Moments before the sending off, Jim McAlister had been booked for clattering into Mackay-Steven and Iain Davidson continued the theme a few minutes after the dismissal, wiping out Armstrong. Kyle Benedictus, on as Brown reshuffled his team and without a rap sheet, then checked Mackay-Steven to earn another booking.
It might not have been the most Corinthian of strategies, but it did meet with a degree of success as United struggled to cleave clear openings. Mark Millar, Rory Boulding and Jon Daly all prodded efforts wide but the best opportunities fell to Mackay-Steven. First, the winger contorted himself around a defender to meet a teasing Barry Douglas' cross, only for his spectacular diving header to crash against the crossbar, then the 22-year-old wriggled past Lewis Toshney in the area and shunted in a low shot that Steve Simonsen did well to save.
For much of the contest, it looked like a United goal would never come. The hosts dominated the ball but rarely tested Simonsen, with the 33-year-old thwarting them on the few occasions they did. Those saves were indicative of an accomplished performance by the goalkeeper, whose signing last week caused consternation at Dens Park. Douglas, the erstwhile first choice, confronted Brown having only belatedly been told about the move and an angry exchange ensued, culminating in the veteran's exclusion yesterday. "There has been a lot of talk in the press," said Brown, his ire raised again. "Rab Douglas is injured; he was not dropped. Steve is 100% fit and we needed that. Rab couldn't take goal kicks or take passbacks; we would have lost in that circumstance."
Given Douglas had also been somewhat short of his best in the three derby defeats this term, the decision made sense and Simonsen went some way to proving as much. Daly – a surprise inclusion in the side after a groin injury – did manage to beat him with a header, only to be incorrectly adjudged offside, but that was as close as the hosts would come until Gardyne scored.
Brian McLean, another pre-match doubt, headed over a Douglas cross and another delivery from the United left-back narrowly eluded both Daly and Keith Watson. Ryan Gauld and Gardyne both directed tame efforts straight at Simonsen before Daly spurned the clearest chance of the second half, cannoning his effort against the goalkeeper before lobbing the rebound over.
"I thought it was going to be one of those days," said Jackie McNamara, the United manager. "It's hard against 10 men but our quality wasn't good enough in the final third. We spoke at half-time about keeping our discipline and not getting caught but I am happy with how the boys responded."
That they had to came as some surprise, United having taken comfort amid their own profligacy in the knowledge that Dundee were equally impotent. Aside from a couple of lashes from distance by Davidson and Ryan Conroy, the closest the visitors had come was when Gary Harkins' show wide in the first half.
Yet as the game entered its final quarter, Brown's side stunned Tannadice in their first second-half attack. Brian Easton made ground down the left and slide a low ball towards Conroy, whose lovely touch enabled him to spin McLean before lashing a fierce drive into the roof of the net. "We knew we wouldn't get many chances but we caught them on the counter," said Brown. "We're disappointed we couldn't hold on."
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