With top-flight St Johnstone coming to town not many would have been betting on Championship Dundee for Scottish Cup progress.
Guy Melamed’s strike on 20 minutes meant the Perth men made for a wise punt but, for those with an emotional stake in the Dee, the progression displayed on the pitch will have pleased them nonetheless.
Albeit Callum Davidson’s side had an off day and still managed to win through, it truly was an impressive showing from a Dundee team that has struggled at both ends of the park at different times this season.
Boss James McPake was rightly proud of his players for their efforts in trying to break down a stubborn visiting defence in what was a fiery and intense contest.
On another day, they would’ve, more than once. In fact, on Saturday, Dundee probably should’ve found a way past Zander Clark at Dens Park.
From Paul McMullan’s thunderous strike from distance crashing off the bar, to Danny Mullen’s disallowed goal early in the second half and, most of all, Clark’s penalty save from Charlie Adam with 15 minutes to go.
Dundee had their opportunities.
Saints limited them to efforts from distance in the first period but the second half saw the hosts really assert their authority.
Unable to even force extra time felt like a harsh outcome for McPake’s men but the Dee gaffer was happy with the spirit shown, regardless.
‘They left nothing out there and are very unlucky not to be in the next round of the cup’
“I thought my players were excellent to a man and gave everything for the football club,” he said.
“They left nothing out there and are very unlucky not to be in the next round of the cup.
“It’s disappointing in that respect, because we wanted to go through, but credit to Callum and St Johnstone they are in the hat for the next round.
“I’m proud of my players.
“I don’t think we were unlucky. I won’t use that.
“I think we were the better team. We had to capitalise when we were on top and we didn’t.
“You can put that down to good defending – they have shown that all season and you have to give them credit.
“As much as we were the team on top and chasing the game, they held strong.
“We missed the penalty but I think that’s down to a good save. He gets a hand to it and he keeps it.
“Charlie strikes the ball very well whenever he strikes it.
“McMullan had a shot that hits the bar and I can’t really remember them troubling us other than the goal.”
He continued: “It sounds like sour grapes when I say the better team lost it but I am here to give my honest views about what I saw out there and I will stand by that.
“I will watch it back but I don’t think I will change my views. I have before but I don’t think I will this time.
“I am very proud of my players, the way they handled going behind against a Premiership team who have won a cup and going for a European place.
“I have been asked all week: ‘Is it about seeing where you’re at?’
“No, it was about progressing in the cup and we are bitterly disappointed we’ve not.”
Of course, the assumption is Dundee will use such a strong performance against Premiership opposition to kick on with their push for promotion to the top table.
Securing a play-off berth, preferably second spot, is crucial for a club set up for top-flight football.
For McPake, though, as much as the focus turns to two huge second-tier tussles with Ayr United tomorrow and Morton at the weekend, his mind is still haunted by what could’ve been.
It’s a huge week for the club but he insists their cup exit does sting as he dissected Mullen’s disallowed goal.
The striker, who stabbed home inside the box after Saints keeper Clark spilled Jordan Marshall’s cross, was adjudged offside by the far side linesman.
McPake was booked by referee Craig Napier for his protestations and continued to contest the call post-match.
McPake bemused by booking after protesting disallowed goal
“I’ve seen it from three different angles and I’ve not changed my mind,” he argued.
“He has guessed, in my opinion. Credit to him if he’s got it right – what a call if he has.
“How he can see that, from the three angles I’ve seen, Danny is offside – I’m not sure.
“Initially they gave the free-kick for a foul on the goalkeeper and quickly changed their mind to offside.
“I’m told it’s a different signal with the flag when someone is offside to when it’s a foul.
“Maybe my booking was right – you can get booked for anything nowadays.
“You show any sort of emotion and the linesman was quick to tell the referee to come and caution the coach.
“I’m not sure if that’s right but that’s part of football now and I need to learn that and maybe not show emotion, which would make football worse, in my opinion.
“It’s not why we lost the football game, we lost because St Johnstone scored and we couldn’t.
“In my opinion, we scored a perfectly good goal.
“We missed a penalty – it was a good save from Zander Clark, Charlie was unlucky.
“At a time when you’re on top, it is really crucial you get a goal and, in my opinion, we got a perfectly good goal chopped off.
“If it is an honest mistake, I can accept, but what I can’t accept is people guessing.
“There are people in there, late on in their careers wanting a cup run, there are young coaches on our bench and on Callum’s bench so it shouldn’t be down to people just guessing.
“You have to be 100% right. Listen, it might show he is right but, from seeing it in real time, it’s a guess.”
At times this season McPake has cut a defeated figure, desperate almost, but it’s good to hear him sounding fired up.
Hopefully, that transmits to his team and they use the disappointment of a cup exit as fuel to get back to mixing it with the big boys on a regular basis.
I certainly won’t be betting against them.