Dundee could only draw with Ayr United for a second time at Somerset Park this season, despite producing a strong finish to the game after going down to 10 men.
Captain Eric Paton got his marching orders with 14 minutes to go and the feeling of injustice caused by referee Brian Winter’s decision seemed to galvanise the Dark Blues.
However, at the business end of the season it is the bottom line that counts and missed chances meant they could only increase their advantage at the top of the table to four points ahead of chasing Inverness Caley Thistle.
A superb strike from Gary Harkins on 38 minutes gave them the lead but the hosts equalised quickly through a Danny Lafferty free-kick.
“I think when we went down to 10 men we were brilliant,” said boss Jocky Scott.
“At times we made mistakes that put us under a wee bit of pressure but there was great commitment from the players.
“We had a lot of excellent chances in the last 15 minutes or so.
“The attitude of the players was different class.”
Scott wasn’t so complimentary about Mr Winter, however.
“I would love to say more about the referee but can’t,” he added. “The sending-off was very harsh but long before then the referee had lost the plot.”
As for Ayr boss Brian Reid, he was glad to see his side make it six matches unbeaten.
“I am reasonably pleased with a point, even though they went down to 10 men,” said Reid.
The main interest before kick-off for Dundee fans surrounded the extent of Scott’s changes following their exit from the Active Nation Scottish Cup on Saturday.
The manager decided to limit them to three, with no place in the line-up for Jim Lauchlan, Craig Forsyth or Ritchie Hart. In from the start came Craig McKeown, Maros Klimpl and Andrew Shinnie.
Both teams donned their change strips, with the Dark Blues wearing white tops and the Honest Men in red.
The game took a while to get going and we were into the 10th minute before home midfielder Steve Bowey broke into the Dundee box only for McKeown to mop up.
The visitors’ first serious shot at goal came from striker Sean Higgins but Ayr keeper Craig Samson got down well to gather the ball with a quarter of an hour gone.
When Eddie Malone got caught in possession deep in his own half on 23 minutes it looked dangerous for the Dens men, but after the ball broke to Dundee old boy Tam McManus he could only shoot weakly at keeper Rab Douglas.
Dens hitman Leigh Griffiths shook off the pain of a hefty challenge from Martyn Campbell to go on a mazy run into the box but he was crowded out, then McManus sent a shot on the turn just over.
Dundee were matching Ayr for enthusiasm and effort but they needed to add some ingenuity to their play and that came courtesy of Harkins on 38 minutes.
Harkins picked up the ball in the middle of the park and swept towards the box. He then unleashed a sweet strike from 20 yards that nestled into the goalie’s bottom right-hand corner.
As good as that goal was, though, the lead didn’t last long — four minutes to be exact.
Ayr claimed for a penalty when Bowey was impeded by Brian Kerr but referee Winter ruled the foul had been perpetrated an inch outside the box.
The home players weren’t happy and neither was Paton, who picked up his first caution for dissent.
Ayr took advantage anyway, with full-back Lafferty blasting the free-kick beyond Douglas with the help of a deflection to make it 1-1.
Ayr had the first go of the second half, Ryan Borris testing Douglas with a 25-yard strike, then Shinnie headed a Harkins cross wide at the other end.
Kerr launched a rocket shot that Samson did well to hang on to before Ayr’s Ryan McGowan looked like scoring but saw his strike spin away for a corner.
McManus picked up a booking for a piece of petulance after a decision didn’t go his way before Dundee missed a great chance on 62 minutes.
Klimpl lifted the ball back into the Ayr box after it had been booted out and Malone headed back across to the far post. MacKenzie was there but could only bundle the ball over from close in.
Griffiths then won a free-kick just outside the home area on 70 minutes and Paton was just a foot too high with the resultant set-piece.
Dundee were reduced to 10 men with 14 minutes left when Paton received a second yellow for a late challenge on Borris out on the Ayr left.
Angry words were exchanged between the Dens captain and manager Scott as the player reached the tunnel area, although it appeared both agreed the ordering-off was harsh.
Scott quickly brought on Bob Malcolm for Higgins and, instead of being on the back foot, Dundee conspired to create some golden opportunities.
Griffiths was first to a loose ball but could only fire over as team-mates piled foward in support, then Harkins got great contact on the ball in the box but his shot whizzed over the bar.
Malcolm was booked for a foul on Borris before Ayr sub Danny McKay bulleted a shot at Douglas from the corner of the six-yard area.
The Dark Blues had the ball in the net in the final minute when Griffiths headed home but the ref had already blown his whistle for a shove by Shinnie, just to wind up the Dundee officials even further.
Ayr United: Samson, Mitchell (Keenan 81), Lafferty, Aitken, Campbell, McGowan, Woodburn (McKay 79), Bowey, McManus, Roberts, Borris. Subs not used-Grindlay, Mendes, Connolly.
Dundee: Douglas, Paton, Malone, Klimpl, McKeown, MacKenzie, Shinnie, Kerr, Griffiths, Higgins (Malcolm 77), Harkins. Subs not used-Bullock, Hart, McMenamin, Hutchinson.
Referee: Brian Winter.