Promotion was the pre-season target and promotion became the end point for Dundee in season 2020/21.
A season like no other, the Dark Blues finished it in rip-roaring fashion, storming up the Championship table and through the play-offs.
They got to their intended destination but there were a few bumps along the road – poor performances, unhappy fans, ranting players and a manager feeling the pressure.
They got to the Premiership, though, and will be stronger for the disappointments they endured along the way.
It came together at the right time but how did the season shape up as a whole?
Early in the season, Dundee’s defence was fragile.
On the opening day, Hearts romped to a 6-2 win at Tynecastle that put the Dark Blues on the back foot from the off.
The defensive line-up that day was a three-man set-up of Jordan McGhee, Lee Ashcroft and Jordon Forster.
They followed the 6-2 loss with a clean sheet at home to Morton. However, there would be three goals conceded at Alloa, four at Hibs and three at home to Dunfermline before Christmas.
That day against the Pars summed up the early-season defence – a three-goal lead given away in 12 panic-stricken minutes.
Compare that to the end of the season where Dundee conceded eight goals in their last 12 matches.
And in the crunch play-off final, they kept Premiership Kilmarnock at arms length for the vast majority of the 180 minutes.
The Dark Blues conceded 51 goals in 38 games overall – that’s 1.3 goals conceded per game.
However, they cut that to 0.66 per game in those final 12 games.
One look at the pre-season team sheet and it was clear where Dundee’s quality lay in abundance.
Charlie Adam, Graham Dorrans, Paul McGowan, Shaun Byrne and Fin Robertson would each be the lynchpin of any other Championship midfield.
There would be Max Anderson and then Jordan McGhee to add to that mix as the season progressed, too.
Goals came from that area – Adam got seven, McGhee five, Anderson four, McGowan three and Dorrans one.
There would be different combinations, too. Byrne was one of few players shining in the early weeks of the season but would drop out in the middle.
McGowan and Anderson took on the mantle at that point.
Then in the closing weeks, they switched to three in the middle – Byrne anchoring Adam and McGhee as the choice selection.
The Dark Blues found trouble at points in the season but it was rarely to do with anything going wrong in the middle.
For much of the season, Dundee weren’t shy in coming forward.
However, finishing off their chances in certain games did prove a stumbling block.
Osman Sow ended the season as top scorer on 10 goals with both Danny Mullen and Jason Cummings on eight each.
For fellow forward Alex Jakubiak, it was a forgettable season thanks to injuries.
With his season as good as ruled out in January and missed chances having cost points at Arbroath, at Ayr and home to Raith Rovers reinforcements were called for.
In came Cummings, a proven Championship goalscorer and two-time capped striker.
The 25-year-old provided a spark for the Dark Blues, grabbing key goals against Inverness, Dunfermline, Raith and Queen of the South to push Dundee into second.
In 38 games, the Dark Blues scored 65 goals – that’s 1.71 goals a game.
Manager James McPake began the season at Hearts with three at the back but swiftly changed to four following that result.
Eventually, they found a set-up that favoured them – a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mullen in behind either Cummings or Sow, McGowan on the left and McMullan right.
That was adapted when Adam returned from his Covid absence, the withdrawn striker swapped for a midfield anchor in Byrne.
Not being too attached to a certain system has proved vital for McPake with managing director John Nelms revealing a change of tack during the season:
The Dens chief said when talking about his manager: “He just went, ‘Look, we have to play reality football. We have to win the high balls, the second balls, work for each other and at the end of the day, our qualities will shine through’.”
And so it proved.
Arriving in pre-season were Mullen, Jakubiak, Ashcroft, Afolabi (loan), Sow, Nicholas Hamilton (loan) and skipper Adam.
The two loans didn’t work out as well as hoped, though Afolabi scored some big goals.
The rest, though, proved vital to the promotion push. Ashcroft, in particular, won both the Players’ Player of the Year and Fans’ Player of the Year award, with Adam second in the running for the latter.
And during the season two signings proved key in shoring up the leaky defence – goalkeeper Adam Legzdins and Liam Fontaine.
Two more in January were pivotal as assist-machine Paul McMullan crossed Sandeman Street, no doubt setting up a goal on the way, before Cummings arrived to bring the goals that saw Dundee into second spot.
They got there and deservedly so in the end.
Dundee had problems, some that seemed insurmountable at times in the campaign.
However, manager McPake and his players worked together to tackle them head on, sorted out the defence and the quality shone through.
It was far from a perfect season. Nonetheless it was a successful one.
They got the job done. And who knows where this team might end up.