Wednesday, August 2, 2017

2017/18 Scottish Premiership preview - Dundee

Check out these other season previews:
HeartsHibernian, KilmarnockMotherwellRangers


LAST SEASON: 10th, 37pts

NOTABLE INS: Roarie Deacon (Sutton United), Jack Hendry (Wigan Athletic), Glen Kamara (Arsenal), Sofien Moussa (Lokomotiv Gorna Oryahovitsa), Elliot Parish (Accrington Stanley), Lewis Spence (Dunfermline Athletic), Randy Wolters (Go Ahead Eagles), Scott Allan (Celtic, loan)

NOTABLE OUTS: Daniel Higgins (Kilmarnock), Marc Klok (PSM Makassar), Rory Loy (Falkirk), David Mitchell (Falkirk), Yordi Teijsse (Quick Boys), Nicky Low (Derry City, loan), Henrik Ojamaa (Go Ahead Eagles, end of loan), Calvin Colquhoun, Kevin Gomis, Nick Ross

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): Bain, Kerr, O'Dea, Gadzhalov, Holt, Hateley, O'Hara, McGowan, Vincent, Wighton, Haber

Dundee have form with rich benefactors.  The Marr brothers took the club, Caniggia, Ravanelli et al, into administration in 2003; Calum Melville retread that path in 2010 after forking out a quarter of a million for Leigh Griffiths and Gary Harkins in the second tier.

The current American owners, thankfully, have more sense.  They have grand plans for Dundee, but not, it seems, that involve taking significant risks.

However they do have on-field targets - a top six finish, as a minimum.  Paul Hartley failed to deliver this in 2015/16.  Last season could have been even worse; the team were in freefall when Hartley was dismissed with four games left.  They had lost seven straight and might have been relegated but for the new manager bounce.

But it was a brief bounce - two wins that got them over the line, before two abject defeats to the duo that finished below them, Inverness and Hamilton, that could be put down to the players downing tools for the holidays but also raised questions over Neil McCann's ability to motivate them.

Initially it seemed that McCann had decided his short-term future lay back in the TV studio.  A week after the end of the season it was announced he had declined the job on a permanent basis, and Dundee then made active overtures towards St. Mirren's Jack Ross.  But the former Sky pundit changed his mind after three days.

Time will rapidly tell if it was the right move both for him and for the club.  Personally I was surprised he went into management; he had a somewhat timid persona as a player, while he was a graduate from the thoughtful, well-spoken school of punditry rather than a boisterous loudmouth.  He also lacks experience, with his only previous coaching role being under Jim Jefferies at Dunfermline.  But he's not been afraid of confrontation so far; he slaughtered the players for their performances in the final games of last season, and cancelled a day off because he wasn't impressed by their League Cup win over Buckie Thistle.

Crucially for McCann, his board have backed him.  Two years of dreadful recruitment from Hartley meant a lot of rebuilding was required.  Out of those who have left, only the departure of young defender Daniel Higgins will be lamented - and even then he was more a project than a first choice.

Reassuringly, he has identified the team's weaknesses and moved to address them.  A partner in central defence for Darren O'Dea has been badly needed for more than a year, so ex-Partick youngster Jack Hendry has been signed.  The midfield lacked width, so in comes former Arsenal youth Roarie Deacon, who has impressed in the English non-leagues, and Dutchman Randy Wolters (who probably shouldn't introduce himself as "I'm Randy" in the local bars).

Excitingly, Scott Allan was convinced to join on loan from Celtic; if he can recapture the form he showed at Hibs a couple of years ago, then he will be one of the signings of the season.  The trick will be fitting him into the team, as the centre of the pitch is pretty crowded.  Another new boy, Glen Kamara, will play the holding role, while Mark O'Hara and Paul McGowan will provide loads of energy.  Being shunted out to the wing will minimize Allan's influence.

Up front there's another option in Tunisian Sofien Moussa, who has looked impressive in the League Cup games.  He seems to have supplanted Marcus Haber, who did well last season; however McCann seems to prefer Moussa's mobility to Haber's targetman persona.  Faissal El Bakhtaoui remains an intriguing option but his tendency to wander around the park and his penchant for shooting from pretty much anywhere are often a hindrance.

There are a few youngsters to keep an eye on too.  Last season was right-back Cammy Kerr's breakout campaign; the League Cup ties have seen the emergence of teenage centre-back Kerr Waddell, who may well be ahead of Hendry and Konstantin Gadzhalov in the queue for a game.  It's just a shame that Craig Wighton will miss most of the campaign with a knee injury - he'll join Julen Etxabeguren and James McPake on the treatment table for the forseeable future.

The main concerns therefore are not so much with the squad (on paper at least) but with the man in charge of them.  The tag of 'rookie' is still justified, and like all new managers McCann will make mistakes.  But given the target will be a return to the top six, he may be under pressure quickly if things do not start well.  And even things go okay, there isn't a lot between the teams who will finish between sixth and eleventh.  A bit of managerial nous could go a long way.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1996 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Scott Bain, Elliott Parish
Defenders: Julen Etxabeguren, Kostadin Gadzhalov, Tom Hateley, Jack Hendry, Kevin Holt, Cammy Kerr, James McPake, Darren O'Dea, Kerr Waddell
Midfielders: Scott Allan, Jesse Curran, Roarie Deacon, Glen Kamara, Paul McGowan, Mark O'Hara, Lewis Spence, James Vincent, Craig Wighton, Danny Williams, Randy Wolters
Forwards: Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Marcus Haber, Sofien Moussa


Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.


Neil Rawlinson said...

A good, fair all-round assessment, though I hope we prove you wrong by finishing higher than 9th

Steven Smith said...

Liked the quote about Hartley dreadful recruitment. Couldn't have put it better myself.