Dundee started last season in dreadful fashion, picked up form and tailed off again before a storming finish won promotion.
Losing 6-2 to Hearts on opening day before winning just five points from their opening five games had those watching on worried.
One win in six in all competitions was followed by an unbeaten run of six with four wins included.
Then form deserted them along with a playable pitch as postponement followed postponement in the winter months.
That was before a streak of nine matches unbeaten was stretched to 12 with just one defeat in securing promotion.
Change in fortunes
Manager James McPake put the change in fortunes down to the return to fitness of key players.
Namely club captain Charlie Adam following his comeback from illness and the man he replaced as skipper Jordan McGhee.
Little fanfare was made of the swap in armband-wearer at Dens Park, though as midfield partners the two key men certainly noised up the play-offs.
“When we got everybody back I think it made the difference,” McPake said on the pitch at Rugby Park following their play-off win.
“(Jordan) McGhee’s injury was a big one. Getting him back and Charlie (Adam) coming back to form after Covid and everything.
“I knew if I could get all the players fit we would have a real chance because I could see how hard they were working.
“There wasn’t a turning moment. I think it was just getting the players back.”
Unexpected tactical switch
Adam was certainly a talisman for the Dark Blues throughout the campaign but Dundee’s fortunes changed thanks to an unexpected tactical switch.
McGhee had been a defender for the majority of his professional career, having come through the ranks at Hearts.
He played right-back while at Falkirk and arrived at Dens Park to play as a central defender.
However, he struggled for form at the beginning of last term and eventually dropped out of the team altogether.
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— Dundee Football Club (@DundeeFC) December 12, 2020
Then came the change at Inverness. McGhee was back in the team.
In the Highlands, Dundee’s warm-up saw the 24-year-old join Lee Ashcroft and Liam Fontaine for pre-match drills.
That pointed to a three-man defence and was a ploy used to surprise the home side.
For, instead, McGhee began the match proper in midfield, the idea to provide much-needed energy in the middle that had been lacking.
The Dark Blues may not have won up in Inverness but the McGhee experiment proved a success as he grabbed a late equaliser.
Unbeatable – who made the McGhee decision?
Since then, Dundee have played 12 matches with the ‘defender’ utilised as a box-to-box midfielder and are yet to taste defeat.
Asked this week about the decision to use McGhee in the unfamiliar position, McPake replied: “I think it came about after a collective sit-down chat which we have in the office.
“It could have been any of the football staff saying get him in there as it was something we were missing at the time.
“He has played in different positions like left-back, right-back and midfield.
“So it was worth putting him in there and he has been outstanding.
“We missed him a lot when he was injured and he was a massive part in us coming back.
“If you have people willing to make the runs, then Charlie will find them. McGhee is one who does that.
“I think as a team, when we got McGhee back, that was pivotal to the season.
“But it was just a sit down where we were looking for solutions to things that we needed.”
McGhee: It felt natural
And McGhee most certainly enjoyed providing a solution after an unhappy beginning to the campaign.
Speaking after the 2-2 draw in the Highlands, McGhee revealed the role wasn’t completely foreign to him: “I actually played there when I was younger when I first went to Hearts but the taller you get, the further back the pitch you go.
“I played in midfield in a bounce game against Forfar last week and everything felt natural again, as if I’d been playing there my whole career.
“The gaffer saw something there and we spoke that it suited me.
“It paid off a little bit at Inverness, though we would have liked the three points.
“I managed to get the goal but I had a couple others and probably should have scored more, to be honest.
“I loved it. It’s been a tough time for me recently as well so to be out there expressing myself and be free felt brilliant.”
Hearts goal then injury strikes
The point won in Inverness was followed up by another draw, this time at home to Dunfermline.
Then came a win at Queen of the South, victory at Alloa and by the turn of the year McGhee was getting into his stride in the middle of the park.
He timed those strides to perfection on January 2 as he met an Adam cross with a bullet header to set his side on their way to a deserved 3-1 win over Hearts.
However, Dundee’s form hit a wall soon after. Not just because of continual call-offs due to bad weather but also because McGhee had badly damaged his chest.
An unfortunate collision at Arbroath saw him tear his pectoral muscle from the bone and required surgery.
That seemed to be that for the season with McGhee destined to watch on from the sidelines for the remainder.
However, he would return well ahead of schedule with the side in better form.
Back in time for the play-offs, McGhee was now a crucial part of the Dundee midfield alongside Adam and backed up by Shaun Byrne.
McGhee and Adam teamed up once more in a 3-0 demolition job on Raith Rovers in the play-off semi-final as the former found the net twice from the latter’s pinpoint throughballs.
Yet another goal would follow in the final to get Dundee going against Kilmarnock at Dens Park.
And he would cover almost every blade and black crumb of the artificial Rugby Park surface in the second leg to power his side back to the Premiership.
An unbeaten season as a midfielder, moving McGhee to the box-to-box role proved the masterstroke – for whoever came up with the idea.
Adam may be the Dundee talisman but how far can the Dark Blues’ lucky charm continue his remarkable run into next season?
Twelve matches and counting…