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St Johnstone 0-0 Dundee: Nervy basement boys share spoils in scrappy clash

St Johnstone defend a Dundee corner as Ryan Sweeney lurks. Supplied by SNS
St Johnstone defend a Dundee corner as Ryan Sweeney lurks. Supplied by SNS

St Johnstone and Dundee desperately need points.

But they had to make do with one each after a nervy basement battle at McDiarmid Park.

A predictable stalemate was probably always going to be the outcome here.

Yet both sides turned in performances that showed the kind of fight and character they’ll need to escape their lowly Premiership positions.

They will need to add quality to the mix too.

But this hard-fought draw saw both move a point closer to Ross County and Livingston directly above them – and that’s progress.

For Saints and the Dark Blues, this marked the end of extended runs of defeats in the league.

After a dreadful few months for both, they will cling onto such positives.

But improvement is a must at McDiarmid and at Dens – and the wins must follow if they are to have any hope of climbing the table.

In seeking to construct a team capable of bringing to an end Saints’ club record-equalling losing run before a new, unwanted milestone of 11-in-a-row was reached, Callum Davidson was characteristically conservative.

The Perth boss picked a familiar, post-winter break back three of Dan Cleary, Liam Gordon and Jamie McCart, with new signing John Mahon handed a seat on the bench.

James Brown and Callum Booth stood as a standard wing-back offering, while Murray Davidson, Jacob Butterfield and Cammy MacPherson were handed central roles.

Up top, however, the immediate restoration of Callum Hendry to a starting role following his recall from Kilmarnock raised a hopeful eyebrow, as did the presence of Nadir Ciftci as his strike partner.

For Dundee, illness forced James McPake to ditch Danny Mullen for Leigh Griffiths, while Liam Fontaine came in for Jordan McGhee, who picked up a thigh injury at Dumbarton.

New signings Niall McGinn and Jay Chapman started on the bench and must have watched agog as, on eight minutes, Ryan Sweeney attempted a header back to Adam Legzdins only to leave it woefully short.

Nadir Ciftci limps off the park after injuring his hamstring against Dundee. Supplied by SNS

Ciftci raced onto it, only for the Saints striker to pull up with an apparent hamstring strain under an astutely timed challenge from Cammy Kerr.

Just like that, Ciftci’s race was run, with Chris Kane coming on to replace the ex-Dundee United man, who was given a convivial reception from the travelling fans as he hobbled past them off the park.

With Cleary stepping forward from right centre back, a la Jason Kerr, Saints started to exert a degree of control.

And as the first half settled into its rhythm, Dundee sought security from two compact banks of four when out of possession.

Max Anderson

The Dark Blues only really threatened from set pieces, although Max Anderson’s efforts to work the ball through midfield were a notable positive.

Unsurprisingly, it was Anderson who was on the spot when Saints’ looseness at the back almost cost them five minutes before the break.

The Dee midfielder had gambled on a misplaced pass and, when it arrived, fired a powerful first-time effort at goal from the edge of the box, which Zander Clark had to look lively to clutch.

Blustery conditions weren’t helping either side and, with nerves starting to take their toll, the first period ended ended with the game heading towards extremely scrappy territory.

James McPake applauds Dundee’s efforts at McDiarmid Park. Supplied by SNS

After the break, with prior scrappiness still very much in evidence, it took James McPake just five minutes to roll the dice with a double change.

Off went Paul McGowan and Luke McCowan, with Charlie Adam and new wide man Niall McGinn entering the fray.

But the first real chance of the half was worked by Saints when a Dundee clearance was returned to Callum Hendry, who saw a snap shot saved by Adam Legzdins.

Minutes later, with the ball still in Saints’ attacking third, Kane tested Legzdins again with a smart turn and shot straight from a Cleary throw-in.

Again Saints pushed forward, with Kane this time pouncing on Christie Elliot’s criminal dithering to earn a clear run at Dundee’s goal.

Commitment

However, with clear grass between him and Legzdins, the Saints striker was caught by Liam Fontaine, who was able to block his effort.

Saints fans were watching their side show the sort of fight and commitment they have lacked far too often this season.

But they were almost undone by a moment of quality from Leigh Griffiths just after the hour mark.

The Dee striker’s every touch had been greeted with howls of derision from the home stands, but when he turned and rifled in an effort from 18-yards that Zander Clark had to look sharp to save, the only noise they could muster was a collective sigh of relief.

Dundee’s fans were heartened, meanwhile, and were on their feet in search of a penalty when Leigh Griffiths appeared to be felled in the box, only for referee Bobby Madden to blank their claims.

With 10 minutes to go, a tired Griffiths was replaced by Alex Jakubiak, whose fresh legs and bullish approach asked the odd question of Saints’ defence.

But they were answered when Jamie McCart cleared a tantalising Adam cross practically off the line and ensured the spoils were shared.


Teams

St Johnstone: Clark, Brown, Cleary, Gordon, McCart, Booth, Davidson, Butterfield, MacPherson, Hendry (May 85), Ciftci (Kane 10).

Subs not used: Parish, Mahon, Gallacher, Craig, Gilmour, Crawford, Middleton.

Dundee: Legzdins, Elliot, Fontaine, Sweeey, Kerr, McGowan (Adam 51), Anderson, Byrne, McCowan (McGinn 51), Griffiths (Jakubiak 80), McMullan.

Subs not used: Lawlor, Sharp, McDaid, Chapman, Mulligan, Robertson.

Referee: Bobby Madden

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