It’s been a curate’s egg of a season for Dundee. There’s no doubt that we underperformed; with the squad at our disposal, particularly up front, we should’ve secured top six, and with Hartley identifying Cup runs as a priority at the start of the campaign, an early exit to Dunfermline and a thrashing at the hands of Rangers can hardly qualify as a success. A number of injuries and tinkering with different systems to accommodate our strikeforce only intensified the imbalance in our squad; the irony of fixing our goalscoring issues only to open the floodgates at the other end hasn’t been lost on the fans.
Having said that, our season has been all about the margins, and but for three abnormally abject performances we’d have been on course for the cup competitions and secured a top six slot on the final weekend. It’s also tough to be critical of a team which has two Player of the Year nominees, a Scotland goalie and a few promising youths on the edge of establishing themselves in the starting eleven, particularly with the infamous “second season syndrome” looming large.
Our steady-as-she-goes, mundane, middle-of-the road season is also immeasurably preferable to the shambles we’d become accustomed to since the turn of the century. The role of Scottish football’s comedy turn on and off the park has happily switched to our dayglo-sporting neighbours United, who had a joyously catastrophic season. This silver lining became a full-on Scrooge McDuck vault of gold when we took the chance handed to us by the gods to relegate Dundee United at Dens on Monday 2 May. I’ll repeat that: WE RELEGATED DUNDEE UNITED AT DENS PARK. My, my, my, beautiful Monday….
Anyway, to the player ratings.
Scott Bain – 7
Now the regular third choice goalie for Scotland, there’s no doubt that Bain is one of our squad’s key assets. Thankfully, unlike Stewart and Hemmings, he’s yet to be subject to transfer speculation, which is mad for a keeper so accomplished with a good 10 to 15 years ahead of him. Although he’s not kept as many clean sheets as I’d like, this is in part due to the chopping and changing of the back line and their own occasional deficiencies. He’s a safe pair of hands at corners and pulls out some incredible point-blank saves, but his record for penalties and the more mundane one-on-ones isn’t as strong. However, this is nit-picking to the extreme, and I’d be gutted if he was snapped up. If Celtic have a succession plan for Craig Gordon, expect to see Bain being tapped up.
David Mitchell – 5
He’s only appeared twice for the Dee this year as a result of Bain’s red card in the penultimate Dundee derby at Tannadice. It’s not much to go on, but he was superb at keeping United at bay until he mistakenly came out for the ball when there was no need to for their late equaliser. A solid backup for Bain.
Cammy Kerr – 6
There’ll be fans baying for my blood for not giving Cammy “he’s one of our own” a higher mark, but it would be difficult to justify given that he only properly established himself in the first team squad after Christmas. There’ll be even more waiting to crucify me for comparing his incredible, Tiggerish work rate (or “engine” as some Alan Partridge fans would deem it) to that of Simon Murray. Of course, Cammy is actually playing for his boyhood heroes whereas Murray took his 30 pieces of tangerine silver over the road and ended up being relegated at Dens, so look who’s laughing now, you little – (that’s enough – Ed). Anyway, the likely departure of Paul McGinn opens up a chance for Cammy to claim the right back spot as his own, but I’d say he plays best in a 3-5-2 as a wing back and still has some rough edges that can be worked on over the course of next season to refine him into the end product. His spell at Peterhead definitely bolstered his physical and mental toughness and it’d be nice to see a youth product finally breaking through.
Kevin Holt – 4
It’s not been the easiest step up to the top tier for Kevin Holt. Our adventurous (some would say gung-ho) 4-2-3-1 system has often left him without cover on the left hand side of defence, which provided our opposition with a rich seam of goals throughout the season. He’s also prone to the odd brainfart, such as his dithering in the first 10 seconds of the Cup tie at Ibrox that led to a total collapse. Using Wighton on the left of the attack/midfield rather than Loy or Harkins seems to have afforded him better protection later in the season, and he’s also found more success as a wing back when we’ve gone 3 at the back, but the crowd remains to be convinced that he’s not a total haddy.
Paul McGinn – 6
Sid from Toy Story (to use one of his cruel monikers) was one of our most consistent performers last season, but like Kevin Holt has been restricted by the narrow formation we pursued at the start of the campaign. Without a covering midfielder on the flank, McGinn was left exposed, particularly due to his penchant for taking the ball down the wing and whipping in a cross, sometimes even avoiding sending it into the stand or out for a goal kick. This, and his seeming reluctance to stick tight to his man in any given situation, has diminished his standing among the fans, and it’s not been his strongest season. He performed admirably when asked to play in a back three, but to be honest he needs an old-fashioned 4-4-2 (or a right winger/defensive midfielder with the stamina of Mo Farah) to really make the most of his abilities. His popularity among Dundee fans has taken a real hit as of late due to his perceived reluctance to sign a new deal, and rumours abound that he’s off to join his brother John at Championship side Hibs. I think it could be a case of not knowing what we had ’til it’s gone, but it’s probably time for a change.
James McPake – 5
Confession time. I remember two things about James McPake’s season – one, his brutal injury in the New Year Derby that ended it, and two, his last minute scrambled equaliser in the first Dundee derby which sent United on their doom spiral into relegation. It’s difficult to give him a rating on half a season, but hopefully his warped knee will recover and he can continue to offer his services at the back for us. As any Hibs (and, in fact, Hearts) fans know, he can have the odd nightmare and isn’t the paciest defender you’ll ever come across, but like O’Dea he offers leadership and experience in a team that’s not exactly blessed with either just now. A backline combining him, O’Dea and either Julen or a young, pacey new signing, along with transfer target Ziggy Gordon at right wing-back and either Holt or another newbie at left wing-back as part of a 3-5-2 could be the ticket for next season, depending on recruitment and retention elsewhere.
Thomas Konrad – 4
Big Tam has always divided the home support; he either has a solid, physical, assured performance or absolutely chucks it, with very little in between. His relatively successful partnership with James McPake from last season was shattered throughout 2015/16 by injuries, and perhaps the unsettled backline – a recurrent theme in these ratings – led to a bit of a backslide this season from the German centre-back. Guilty of making the odd rash foul and also of having a torrid time in the big games. For me, he comes up just short in every possible attribute for a defender – calmness, decision-making, skill, physicality and speed – and doesn’t have any real strength that outweighs the weaknesses. His star, such as it was, has definitely been on the wane this season, and it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see him leave at the end of his contract this summer.
Darren O’Dea – 7
The handsome Irishman steadied the boat at the back (not that the scoreline always shows it!) after signing in January, and has been a leader both on and off the park – rumour has it he’ll be the captain for next term, which shows how much he’s valued by Hartley. He’s not the speediest at the back, and he’s had to contend with a cavalcade of centre-back partners since joining, but his reading of the game and ability to talk to team-mates has been invaluable. Also sings a mean tune if the videos from the POTY awards are anything to go by.
Kostadin Gadzhalov – 5
Despite the low mark, I’m a big fan of Kosta. He’s the most basic, no-frills defender on our books – get the ball, boot it clear, maybe break a man in half in the process, who cares – but he’s effective at what he does as long as you accept that there are limitations and that he needs a lot of support and guidance from his colleagues over the course of 90 minutes. He’s also a rare source of strength and physicality in a team which perhaps is bullied off the ball a bit easier than it should be. A solid back-up centre-back who’s been massive in the derbies this year (and, of course, scored the equaliser in the game that RELEGATED UNITED AT DENS).
Julen Etxabeguren – 5
I found it very tough to mark Julen down as a 5. There’s clearly a real gem in there somewhere and in some games, such as his performance at Tynecastle or his shift in defensive midfield in the derby that relegated Dundee United, he has been superb. However, there have been too many occasions where he’s been caught out of position or where his decision making has totally abandoned him at the crucial moment. It’ll be interesting to see if Hartley gives him more opportunities at defensive mid, given his ability on the ball and the fact that he’s about a foot taller than any other team-mate in that area, or if he persists in trying to find the correct combo at the back (perhaps in a back three; can you tell yet it’s my preferred option?)
Matty Allan/Andy Black/Darryll Meggatt – 3
Matty and Andy are listed as first team players, but have only really filled spaces on the bench this campaign. Meggatt has had his opportunities limited by a series of injuries, and next season will be make or break for the former Alloa charge. A spell out on loan could beckon for Matty or Andy to get them battle-ready at the back.
Paul McGowan – 8
I’m going to say something that hasn’t been said enough this season – Paul McGowan is one of our most consistent, underrated and valuable players. He’s our incredibly active midfield metronome, and when he’s available everything goes through him and his trademark turn. He may not have a shining individual performance to point to, but that’s the thing; he makes our system and our team work and never puts in anything less than a 7/10 performance, which was recognised by how close he ran Kane Hemmings at the end of season awards. He gets the extra point for the accidental entertainment provided by his reaction to adverse refereeing decisions and once gurning at me on the Kingway from the front seat of Gary Harkins’ car. Of all of the players in the squad, I actually think he’d be the biggest miss – just look at how godawful we’ve been since his season ended in the final derby of the season, in which I’m morally obliged to tell you WE RELEGATED UNITED AT DENS.
Nick Ross – 6
Up until his tragi-comic error against former employers ICT on the final day and that stunning miss against Accies the week before, Nick Ross had teed me up nicely with a “season of two halves” set of performances. Up until halfway through the season, he had been very lightweight in the middle, providing little to no attacking flair and all the defensive cover of a wet paper bag. He’s quietly gone about winning over the fans by putting in energetic, assured, calm performances since then and striking up a strong partnership in the middle with Paul McGowan following the departure of Kevin Thomson to the Championship. It’ll be intriguing to see if the arrival of former team-mates James Vincent and Danny Williams provides Ross with the competition or edge that he’ll need to keep his place in the starting eleven.
Nicky Low – 5
Nicky Low was one of this year’s signings that excited me the most. Although he hadn’t had too many opportunities at Aberdeen, he seemed to provide the creative spark and option on the left that might help to bring some balance to our team. However, a season plagued by injury has reduced his opportunities to make an impact, which is a pity as his performances when fully fit showed that he has the potential to be a solid first team pick. His tendency to drift into the middle from his position out left will maybe work against him too, given our need to play with a bit more width.
Gary Harkins – 7
Ah, the Scottish Iniesta. Oh captain, my captain. I want your baldy patch too. I will throw my hands up here and say that my rating for Gary Harkins must be read with an understanding that I cannot get enough of the guy. Whether it’s trolling Rangers, leading us to safety from a 25 point deduction or his Cantona-esque celebration versus Partick Thistle, the man is a modern day Dundee legend. Some fans feel that he’s lazy, unfit and/or past his best, but he has clearly been playing through injuries at various points this season and when he’s on fire he fully deserves the flame-ball emoji. His return to the starting eleven sparked a mini-renaissance at Dens about a third of the way through the season, and if he wants to end his career at Dens I’m happy for him to do so. He may become subject to the fluctuation of squad rotation next season to help manage a somewhat injury-prone squad short on experience, but the flair and ingenuity he can bring is invaluable and should not be dispensed with lightly.
Calvin Colquhoun/Jesse Curran – 4
Another couple of youth players whose opportunities have been limited this year, but have impressed with their attitude, ability and work rate when they’ve been given the chance. Curran was sent out on loan after making a solid debut against Motherwell in October, replacing injured (surprise surprise) Kevin Thomson, whereas Colquhoun has been a regular on the bench and has starred for the Under-20s team. Expect both to feature a bit more next season, particularly given how thin the squad is through the middle.
Greg Stewart – 8
When Greg was nominated for Player of the Year, I was a bit perplexed – after all, few would argue he’s had the incredible individual season he had in 2014/15, when he single-handedly dragged us into the top six. However, the key word in that sentence is *individual*. Last season, he was an unknown quantity and was able to wreak havoc – this year, he’s been doubled up on by opposition sides and, to be blunt (and probably biased) he’s had lumps kicked out of him. Never mind, though – he’s struck up an instinctive, intuitive partnership with Kane Hemmings and has moved from being the scorer to the supplier, although he still finds the time to chip in with his trademark “cut in and curl into the top left corner” or even to turn Ross County players into spaghetti with his twists and turns before sliding one into the bottom corner for what I believe should’ve been goal of the season. He doesn’t track back as much as may be required by the system Hartley initially used, but that’s more of a reflection on the need to find the right system for the team rather than on his own merits. I would be absolutely gutted if he left, particularly to one of our rivals in the division, as he is without doubt the most naturally gifted player I’ve seen in a long time at Dens.
Kane Hemmings – 10
I do not have the words to express how bloody brilliant Kane has been this season. Although he’s scored a lot of goals by playing off the shoulder of the last defender, he can’t be pigeon-holed as a one-dimensional striker. He literally has no weaknesses to his game; he can hold up the ball for others and is strong in the air, has pace to burn, his positioning and ability to find space is excellent and he is absolutely lethal. It’s difficult to uncouple him from Greg Stewart, his former strike partner at Cowdenbeath and good pal. If I were an English Championship team, I’d be trying to sign both of them, as their chemistry and understanding is impeccable. The interplay for our opening goal against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park is breathtaking and hasn’t been seen from players in dark blue since the Bonetti era. Kane fully deserves his Player of the Year nomination and if I were Paul Hartley I’d be locking him in a cupboard over the summer (or at least blocking his agent’s number on his phone).
Rory Loy – 6
After a strong start to the season, Loy’s contributions became more limited after a spell on the injury table gave Hemmings his chance to shine up top. Funnily enough, I was more positive about his signing than Hemmings at the start of the campaign, but as time has gone on it seems as if it’s difficult to find the right fit for him, Stewart and Hemmings to work together without sacrificing the backline and midfield. He’s been tried out on the left with marginal success, and it may require the departure of either of the dynamic duo to give him another spell in his preferred traditional centre forward slot. Hopefully he won’t become frustrated on the bench, as he’s a very strong option to bring on and may well play a key role in squad rotation alongside Harkins next term.
Craig Wighton – 6
After a disappointing loan spell at Rovers, Wighton returned to Dens in the winter with his future for the first time seeming in the balance. However, since coming back, he’s provided a refreshing reminder of why he’s been touted for big things in the future. Hartley has shifted him back to playing wide left rather than as an out and out striker, which suits both his frame and style of play better; asking him to hold up the ball for Hemmings or Loy was utter madness, and given the freedom of the wing he can provide better support both to the strikers and to Holt. Hartley has always emphasised that he would only play Wighton when he considered him ready, much to the chagrin of the impatient romantics of the Dundee support, but this now seems to have paid dividends. Wighton’s loan spells have given him a good grounding and he’s now deservedly secured himself a starting spot ahead of Loy, and at the tender age of 18 will hopefully flourish for us.
It would be remiss of me to not conclude these remarks by pointing out that this born and bred Dundee fan, who turned down United’s overtures at the time they were bringing through Gauld and Souttar to sign for his boyhood heroes, scored an injury time winner to RELEGATE UNITED AT DENS. Sod your Leicester City – THAT is the real fairytale.
Arturo – 4
He hasn’t had too many opportunities to shine this season and has been restricted to a handful of appearances (and no goals) from the bench since his arrival from Spain in January. It’s difficult to judge him on such a small sample, but he seems energetic and has some flair, although he’s suffered from an elephantine touch when presented with the odd chance. Whether he’s taken on beyond the summer is in doubt, and could be influenced by the fate of Hemmings and Stewart, as well as the rise of Wighton. Hartley could be taking a similar softly-softly tack to his treatment of Gadzhalov, who was signed midway through the season in the last campaign and given time to acclimatise to the Scottish game before being given too many onerous duties on the park.
Written by Gary Cocker