Crisis! Crisis! Crisis!
In football, everything’s a crisis, and everyone appears to be having, about to have, or has just had, a crisis. John Terry scores away from home (and I don’t mean at Turf Moor last weekend) and it’s a crisis for Chelsea and England. “Rangers in crisis” was a prominent theme in this Hogmanay’s Only An Excuse?, but, despite having no cash, apparently being controlled by the bank and having to flog Barry Ferguson and Pedro Mendes in the last six months (except they didn’t; Walter Smith wanted rid of both of them), they seem to be doing all right, don’t they? Of course, Celtic are in crisis at the moment.
Dundee are not in crisis. They have no financial worries – as long as this bloke Calum Melville remains interested. They have, in Leigh Griffiths, the first division’s outstanding player. And, despite their defeat at home to Ross County on Saturday, they have a six point lead in the race for SPL promotion.
Thing is, a few weeks ago, the Dark Blues were 12 points clear and coasting. They came away from Inverness with a point on Boxing Day, having put in another Jekyll & Hyde performance (the complete opposite of the Alba Cup Final – this time they were immortal in the first half and a complete mess in the second), but since then, they have four points from four games – one win, with a late winner against Dunfermline, a draw in Dumfries where by all accounts Queen of the South deserved to win, and defeats, both at home, to Airdrie United and to County. Jocky Scott’s side lead the latter by six points, Inverness by ten, and QOS by 11. But County have three games in hand, Inverness two, and QOS a whopping four. It is all just a teensy bit interesting.
Dundee should run away with this division. They really should. The quality on display, compared to the sides which battled it out around a decade ago (when Inverness were last here), is much reduced. Jocky Scott went for promotion using the time-honoured method of Livingston and Gretna – buy the best players from the lower leagues (in this case Griffiths, Gary Harkins and ex-ICT cocaine sniffer Richie Hart), plus some who could probably be in the top division (Maros Klimpl, Brian Kerr). Of course, it’s worth pointing out what fate befell Livi and Gretna after they spent their way to the top. But Griffiths and Harkins have shared 21 league goals between them this season so far, which is what you get when you buy players for £125,000 each at this level. Only one other player (Inverness forward Adam Rooney) is in double figures for league goals so far. Dundee’s defence looks shaky at times, despite having veteran keeper Rab Douglas, plus a very solid centre-back in Gary MacKenzie, but they have only conceded 20 league goals so far. And they have depth, a commodity that all their opponents, except Inverness, are totally without.
However, there will be some nerves at Dens Park just now, in light of this poor run of form. The closing of the transfer window means they hold on to Griffiths, but it also prevents further reinforcements other than loan deals. Scott is an experienced, solid coach, but he has had remarkably little success in his career and accusations of a lack of tactical acumen are not unreasonable. If one of the star men gets crocked, it will get very, very interesting indeed. But has anyone got the appetite to challenge? Ross County seem the most likely, led by their extremely talented young boss Derek Adams, but their incredible luck with injuries this season (i.e. no-one out for a significant period) surely can’t last, and their bench is threadbare. Inverness have the quality on depth on paper, but whilst Terry Butcher has conjured up some consistency recently, you can’t help feeling that they lack the cutting edge required to defeat other top-half teams. Queen of the South have been most active in the January window, but they too will be a bit short if injuries stack up, and all three sides might yet be scunnered by having to play lots of midweek games in March and April. Dundee have got the points on the board already.
So, frankly, Dundee are not anywhere near a crisis. But they are rocking a little bit, and the first division is now a teensy bit interesting. At least for now.