Dundee 0, City 1
Paul McLaren dispelled fears of a serious injury after being stretchered off against Dundee.
The sight of the City play-maker being carried from the pitch cast a shadow over a good night’s work but afterwards he was able to walk from the ground without any problems.
“It hurt when I did it but I didn’t think it was that bad,” said McLaren, who suffered a badly bruised right ankle.
“Then I started feeling a bit wobbly and when they put me on the stretcher I feared the worst. But there’s nothing to be worried about. It’s just a few stud marks on my leg and I’ll be fine.”
Stuart McCall will have been pleased to see his side pass their first proper pre-season examination – and delighted his key signing escaped serious injury with the season kicking off in just over a fortnight.
Dundee and City have quite a bit in common. Both have known much better times in recent memory; both went through the horrors of administration.
Dundee, like City, are managed by a tigerish midfielder. Alex Rae was not known as a shrinking violet in his playing days with Millwall, Wolves and Sunderland.
Rae is also in his first hot-seat job although he has a year’s advantage on McCall, having taken up the helm in May 2006.
His aim, like McCall’s, is promotion this time round and Dundee are also heavily favoured by the bookies.
So the Dens Park side, who finished second in Scottish Division One last term, were the ideal opposition last night as City’s build-up got serious after three non-league outings.
McCall’s selection reflected the quality of the hosts, with Graeme Lee and Chris Brandon appearing for the first time in claret and amber.
And surprisingly there was also an outing for Joe Colbeck, who had only made the trip at the 11th hour because of his sore groin.
Brandon lined up on the left of a four-man midfield, with Kyle Nix partnering McLaren in the middle. Omar Daley was pushed up front.
City needed only four minutes to get their noses in front from the game’s opening corner.
McLaren floated it invitingly towards the penalty spot, where Barry Conlon rose above the pack to head home his second goal in just over a half of pre-season action.
Strikers are judged on scoring and, for all his hard work for the team, fingers have been pointed at Conlon for not getting enough goals. Hopefully his start will do the big man a world of good.
The early boost certainly lifted City, who were dominating from the early corners. Graeme Lee, twice, and Conlon again both beat their markers to win the set-pieces.
Conlon was leading the line well and the visitors looked strong in all areas. Rae’s audible anxiety on the touchline illustrated their control on proceedings.
Dundee’s cause was not helped by the loss of Senegalese midfielder Makhtar N’Diaye after 29 minutes with a heavy knock.
Unlike at Guiseley, City keeper Rhys Evans had barely touched the ball and Dundee’s first shot from Colin McMenamin finished nearer the corner flag than the goal.
Former Celtic keeper Rab Douglas finally claimed a City corner to spark a more promising break but the final pass was poor and Evans gathered easily.
But as half-time approached, City’s night took a downturn when McLaren was left in a heap after being caught in a challenge with right back David Cowan. McCall came running on to see how badly he was hurt and the midfielder had to be taken off on a stretcher.
It was a worrying sight for the 66 travelling fans in the 1,239 crowd as the new signing was carried past them towards the dressing room. But it did not disrupt City’s rhythm as Daley cut inside to force a flying save from Douglas.
The Jamaican’s pace was proving a real headache for the Dundee defence and Jim Lauchlan, left in Daley’s slipstream just before the break, responded by wrestling him to the ground.
Much to Daley’s annoyance, lenient referee Colin Brown took no action against his assailant. In a league game the centre half would have seen red for such a blatant professional foul.
Willy Topp replaced Brandon for the second half, going wide on the right with Colbeck switching wings.
Dundee were trying to pick it up and Evans unconvincingly sliced the ball into touch under pressure from Brian Deasley.
Conlon’s good game continued as he poked a ball into the danger zone for McLaren’s replacement Lee Bullock but Douglas was across in the nick of time.
Deasley then got in behind the City defence but fell down too easily as Matt Clarke went to close him down. The loose ball broke to Colin Cameron but the former MK Dons schemer, once a City transfer target for Jim Jefferies, was blocked by the quick-thinking Paul Arnison.
McCall rang the changes on the hour with five substitutions – only Clarke remained from the starting back four and goalkeeper. He ended up the only player in the side to stay on for the full 90 minutes.
Simon Ainge, who came in at right back, was immediately beaten by winger Mark Gilhaney, who floated a dangerous ball to the far post where McMenamin failed to get a decisive touch to trouble Evans.
As the substitution merry-go-round continued, David Wetherall even popped up in a striker’s role. He had a chance to shoot from the edge of the box but dallied on the ball too long.
City: Evans (McLaughlin 60), Arnison (Ainge 60), Heckingbottom (L O’Brien 60), McLaren (Bullock 39), Lee (Bower 60), Clarke, Colbeck (Sharry 60), Daley (Jacobs 70), Conlon (Thorne 70), Nix (Wetherall 76), Brandon (Topp 46).
Dundee: Douglas, Cowan (D O’Brien 70), Malone (Forsyth 70), Cameron, MacKenzie, Laughlan, Paton, N’Diaye (McHale 29), McMenamin (Mearns 82), Deasley, Gilhaney.