TOM DUTHIE: Dundee must start battling on the pitch — not off it!

Scenes after the final whistle at Dens Park on Saturday did nothing for the image of Dundee boss Neil McCann, his club and football in general.

And perhaps most worrying for Dark Blues fans, they were an unwanted distraction from the fight everyone at Dens needs to be concentrating on.

The scuffle between McCann and St Johnstone reserve keeper Zander Clark in the technical area following the Perth men’s crushing 4-0 victory will land both in hot water.

And the further fracas as players and backroom staff headed into the dressing-room area could see further punishment handed out by the authorities.

What exactly was said when McCann and Clark clashed after the manager appeared to have words with Saints kitman Manny Fowler may never be revealed.

Dundee boss Neil McCann watches from the touchline

As TV pictures showed, both men put hands on each other and, whether or not it was “handbags” as McCann later described the incident, it was not acceptable.

Whatever punishment it leads to from the SFA and possibly even the SPFL, they will have to accept because both were out of line.

Likewise, anyone who finds themselves in hot water because of the dressing-room area nonsense can have no complaints if they are hit hard in the pocket or by way of a ban.

Football is an emotional business and, at times, people do get hot under the collar — but when hands are laid on others, a line has been crossed. That cannot be tolerated.

Similarly, if people were challenging members of the opposing camp to fight, the authorities have to come down hard on them.

Dundee striker Simon Murray appealed in vain for a penalty following this challenge by St Johnstone’s Scott Tanser during the Dark Blues’ 4-0 defeat at Dens on Saturday

And right now Dundee should be concentrating on other things, because events on the pitch showed they are a team in big trouble.

Saturday was the second time since the turn of the year they’ve faced fellow-strugglers at Dens Park and conceded four goals.

Early last month, bottom club Ross County came to Dens looking for a first win since November and cruised to a 4-1 victory.

Saints had been in a worrying slump when they arrived but ended the day with a four-goal winning margin that could have been greater.

That meant a fifth consecutive home defeat in the league for the Dee and, if that stat is not worrying enough, that abysmal run has seen them manage just one goal.

Concerning as that is, the first priority this week will be to tighten up a defence that was torn apart by Saints.

From first goal conceded to last, the defending was farcical and, if that’s not put right, a play-off place — or worse — at the end of the season looks likely.

Dundee are still seven points above the Staggies in bottom spot and hold a three-point advantage over play-off place occupiers Partick Thistle.

With Aberdeen, Hearts, Celtic and Rangers to be faced before the split next month, right now there seems little prospect of those gaps being widened.

Even if they are maintained, it’s clear there is work to be done when the post-split fixtures come round.

A painful history of slumps over the vital period showed bigger gaps than the ones held right now can quickly disappear when they are facing the teams around them.

Ironically, at the moment, Dundee’s best chance of securing survival may lie in being handed away games in three of the four closing games.

They have not won at Dens since beating Partick in mid-December and, over the course of the campaign, half their wins have come on the road.

And some of the football that’s been played away from Dens has been highly impressive.

Even in the dramatic late defeat at in-form Kilmarnock last month, they looked a very good footballing side.

Problem is, when the final fixtures come round, battling qualities are usually just as important as technical ability.

What Dundee are going to have to show is they can do that. On the pitch, not off it!