Lee Ashcroft has begun pre-season like he finished the last campaign: scoring goals for Dundee.
A centre-back’s main job is to stop the other side’s attack but the 27-year-old has shown in his year at Dens Park he enjoys moonlighting as a goal threat at the other end.
In fact, Ashcroft was the fourth top scorer for the Dark Blues last term, beaten only by strikers Osman Sow, Jason Cummings and Danny Mullen.
He notched seven in total, six in the league, and built up an unlikely scoring partnership with his central defensive mate Liam Fontaine.
Between them they reached double figures thanks to pinpoint deliveries from the likes of Charlie Adam and Paul McGowan.
Once more Ashcroft was on the end of an Adam cross in the 3-0 friendly win over Leyton Orient on Tuesday evening.
48 mins | 🎯
55 mins | 🧱
— Dundee Football Club (@DundeeFC) July 7, 2021
And he’s determined to keep up the scoring touch when Premiership football returns to Dens Park this coming season.
“The way the season ended I had confidence going forward for set-pieces,” Ashcroft told the Courier.
“I just felt I was getting on the end of everything.
“I’m still feeling like that. We have good delivery into the box and I’ve just been timing things right, having an instinct to get on the end of the ball. Hopefully, I can keep that going.
“You get limited chances to score being a centre-back but I just seem to be getting on the end of things.
“Hopefully I can keep doing that and get some more goals for the team this season.
“At times last season I actually had two men picking me up because I was in good form, that then gives someone else freedom to attack the ball.
“Because it’s not just me, we have Fonts, we have big Sweens (new signing Ryan Sweeney), and other boys who are threats.
“I think me and Fonts got double figures last year between us. It’ll be massive this year in tight games if we can help the team with a similar goal tally.
“Against good teams in the Premiership I think set-pieces will be huge for us.”
The goal that sealed promotion
Ashcroft not only scored plenty of goals but he saved them for big moments when his team needed them.
None more so than sealing promotion at Rugby Park in May.
Despite a good start to the second leg with Mullen making it 3-1 on aggregate to Dundee, the tie was still in the balance with 78 minutes to go.
However, the big defender made things even more comfortable for the Dark Blues as he shrugged off his marker and powered a header into the net.
“It was amazing,” he recalled.
“It was a bit of a blur at the time but it was one of those ones where I’m just stood in the middle of the box by myself.
“Out of all my goals it was the one I had most time to think about. All I was thinking was ‘get this on target’ because sometimes you can overthink it if you’ve time.
“I just aimed for the target and thankfully it went in.
“It put us 4-1 up in the tie and took the pressure off.
“To then see the game out was brilliant and now we have the rewards this season being back in the Premiership so hopefully we can make our mark.”
‘Boys are ready to go in the Premiership’
And that final statement is the reason Ashcroft signed up at Dundee after leaving Dunfermline.
Following four seasons in the top flight at Kilmarnock, the defender has up till this season been scrapping it out in the Championship.
Now, the Dark Blues are looking forward to testing themselves against the best teams in the country at the biggest venues.
“The way we finished last season was brilliant,” he added.
“I think we knew we had a Premiership squad already and that’s why the majority of the boys are still here.
“We showed we can compete at that level with the two Killie games but it will be tough.
“It is much better places we are looking forward to going to now like Celtic Park, Ibrox and places like that. Hard trips but games we can look forward to.
“There hasn’t been much change from last season. We’ve got a couple of new boys in and they’ve been brilliant, settled in really well.
“It was a short break so it was as if we hadn’t been away but we’re ready to go and to get into the competitive stuff.
“We have West Ham before that but the boys are ready to go.”