Dundee correspondence failure again leaves Hearts reeling as Steven Naismith defends youngster and asks free-kick question

Luke McCowan's (L) chip evades Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark to give Dundee the three points at Dens Park (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)
Luke McCowan's (L) chip evades Hearts goalkeeper Zander Clark to give Dundee the three points at Dens Park (Photo by Mark Scates / SNS Group)

Luke McCowan's sumptuous 30-yard chip gave Dundee their first league win of the season. He was a long way out but not as far away as he was meant to be, which was on the bench.

His name appeared on the first team sheets issued to reporters before it was removed from the first IX when these were hastily re-issued. However, Dundee were told they must go with the original submission.

It’s hard to avoid a reference to the saga of a few years ago when Dundee changed their vote about ending the season early during Covid after their initial email was caught up in the SPFL spam folder. By the time they re-submitted the vote, the club’s stance had changed. They were now in favour of stopping the season – with one ramification being Hearts’ relegation to the Championship.

This time an administration glitch described by Dundee manager Tony Docherty as “human error” again ended up hurting Hearts. It was typical given all the pre-match shenanigans that McCowan should emerge as the match winner just after the hour mark.

Josh Mulligan, who was originally meant to play in McCowan’s place and was named on reissued team sheets, did not feature at all.

Although they were slightly different circumstances, the drama recalled the will-he, won’t-he-play? circus that occurred before the World Cup final between France and Brazil in 1998. The player involved was Ronaldo, who was not included on team sheets handed out before kick-off before being hastily reinstated after recovering from a seizure.

No one is suggesting that McCowan is Ronaldo, though the great Brazilian would have been proud of the way the Dundee winger took advantage of an opportunity to chip Clark.

Hearts technical director Steven Naismith was rightly furious at the way the chance was coughed up. He did defend young midfielder Aidan Denholm, whose stray pass was intercepted by McCowan after Clark had taken a quick free kick a few yards near the stand-side touchline. Quite why the goalkeeper was taking the kick - and with such haste - is unclear.

"He (Denholm) plays his part in terms of losing the ball but do we need to take the free kick quickly?" asked Naismith afterwards. "There's more than just blame at Aidan Denholm to be honest."

By the time the ball was at Denholm’s feet, via Kye Rowles, Clark was still hopelessly out of position. The Hearts midfielder’s pass was wayward while under pressure from Dundee striker Amadou Bakayoko. McCowan took possession before floating a chip into the top corner beyond Clark’s despairing dive.

The goal stopped Hearts in their tracks. They had improved significantly after the break, when Naismith felt compelled to make three changes. Yutaro Oda, who was booked in the first half and then penalised, although not yellow-carded, for simulation shortly afterwards, was one of those making way.

Alex Lowry moved out to the left and looked like a different player. But Dundee stemmed the tide and should have extended their lead with ten minutes left. That cultured left foot of McCowan’s delivered a cross for Zach Robinson, whose close-range header was tipped over by Clark.

Robinson also had a goal chopped off in the first half after a VAR check when he ill-advisedly flicked in Jordan McGhee’s shot while in an offside position. The shot looked already net-bound.

As for Hearts, they offered little in attack. Dundee ‘keeper Trevor Carson, on his home debut, was stretched only once, when tipping a free-kick from Stephen Kingsley over the top in the first half.

The Hearts fans offered their team stout backing. As many as 3,000 made the trip, possibly as many as have travelled to a game at Dens since 1986. But the players could not respond.

“Hibs are falling apart!” chanted the away supporters in recognition of the news that the Easter Road club had parted company with manager Lee Johnson. But these same fans then watched with increasing dismay as their own side slumped to defeat at a bogey ground. The visitors seemed to simply run out of ideas.

It was hardly the send-off required before Hearts head to Greece later this week to seek to turn round a 2-1 first leg deficit against PAOK Salonika in a Conference League play-off tie. As for Dundee, bureaucracy helped them in the end.

No one puts Luke McCowan in the corner – or on the bench at least, it seems.