James McPake admits “plugging the gap” in midfield left by Jordan McGhee’s absence is his biggest headache as he searches for Dundee’s winning formula.
A defender throughout his career to date, McGhee has transformed himself into a box-to-box midfielder in recent weeks and played a major role in the Dark Blues’ upturn in form.
That was until a shoulder injury forced him off early against Arbroath almost two weeks ago and has required surgery to sort the problem.
The 24-year-old successfully underwent the operation on Monday morning but is expected to be out for a number of weeks.
That has prompted McPake to look into the loan market for a temporary replacement and could see Celtic’s Ewan Henderson come in until the end of the season.
Without McGhee, Dundee let their lead slip at Arbroath before losing 3-1 to Raith Rovers on Saturday.
At Gayfield, McPake opted to use full-back Cammy Kerr in the middle of the park after he performed a similar role late on in the win over Hearts.
Then at Stark’s Park it was a first start of the season for young midfielder Callum Moore, alongside Charlie Adam and Shaun Byrne.
Moore had made a fleeting appearance in the cup win over Bonnyrigg Rose last month but enjoyed first-team experience under Jim McIntyre in the Premiership, playing five times in 2018/19.
“We’ve seen in recent games what Jordan McGhee brings to our team so it is a blow but we need to find a way of plugging that gap,” said McPake.
“We have players in this squad capable of doing that. It’s up to us to make sure we get it right.
“It’s been a frustrating season for Callum. He’s one of the young ones with real first-team experience in the Premiership and he had been doing really well in pre-season. Then he picked up a chest infection and broke his foot in a friendly.
“He’s had to be patient and had been doing really well in training. Last week we’d been working on how to play against Raith and he did really well. He deserved his chance.
“He’s another good young player from the academy who can help the club.
“We’ve had Max Anderson and Fin Robertson as well who’ve done great. Then there’s another group coming through – Sam Fisher made his debut on Saturday and Lyall Cameron has been doing well.
“What we are looking for is to get that balance right in midfield in the hole left by Jordan McGhee’s injury.”
The simplicity of Raith Rovers’ equalising goal at the weekend through former Dee Kyle Benedictus from a short corner was a huge frustration for McPake.
Their second also came indirectly from another short corner, this time Reghan Tumilty firing in a superb 30-yarder after Dundee had cleared.
That’s after conceding from a corner against Arbroath in the previous fixture and the Dundee boss admits “we need to get set-plays right”.
“It was really frustrating to lose the first goal from a set-piece,” he added.
“The second comes from the corner but ends up being an unbelievable strike.
“Set-pieces are massive in football, at every level. As a player I always felt they were hugely important and that hasn’t changed now.
“We were missing two of our most experienced players in Liam Fontaine and Lee Ashcroft – that’s not to say the two centre-backs (Sam Fisher and Malachi Fagan-Walcott) didn’t do well.
“But that experienced allows them to organise and spot danger quicker, those goals might not have happened.
“The third goal is a really good strike as well but we had chances ourselves. On another day, the result might have been different.
“But we need to get set-plays right. It’s a bugbear of the players as well and we’re determined to sort it out.
“We feel we have the best delivery in the league at the other end with Charlie Adam but we need to be better at defending them ourselves.”