JAMES McPake, the Dundee manager, watched substitute Andrew Nelson notch the goal to seal their first Championship win, before revealing it was an agonising decision to leave him out.

Nelson was the hero for McPake’s men as he climbed off the bench to hit the all-important 74th winner and get the Dark Blues’ league campaign up and running following their opening-day 2-2 draw with Dunfermline.

The 21-year-old striker sunk Ayr with a textbook late header to spark delight among the home supporters who’ve set their sights on sealing a quick-fire return to the Premiership following last season’s relegation.

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And manager McPake told how he felt for the former Sunderland ace as he chose to start without him.

“Andy probably feels hard done by,” admitted McPake afterwards.

“I had a front two that didn’t include him and that’s no reflection on Andy whose had a good pre-season.

“It was a tough decision to leave him out but that’s football for you.

“But I really love working with Andy. You get everything from him and he showed that again for how long he was on the park here.

“His goal was great, a brilliant header. There’s so much more to come from him. We know he can make a massive contribution with goals allied to his over play.”

Dundee handed Kane Hemmings his first start on returning to the club earlier in the week on a three-year deal from Notts County.

Hemmings was given a warm welcome back from the home fans who were desperate to see their side avoid falling any further behind league leaders Dundee United even this early in proceedings.

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Skipper Jamie Ness also gave the hosts a further boost by recovering from injury to take his place in central midfield.

Ayr, though, were buoyed by their opening-day 4-2 win over Morton last weekend so arrived on Tayside with genuine hope of making it back-to-back victories.

They created the first semblance of an opening in eight minutes when Michael Moffat out-muscled Dundee defender Jordan Forster, and advanced towards Jack Hamilton’s goal for his touch to let him down.

Hemmings was looking lively. The former Rangers youngster latched onto Paul McGowan’s pass, but saw his shot deflected narrowly over the bar for a corner, before Steven Kelly’s free-kick at the other end fizzed just over.

The visitors were dangerous on the break as proved in 18 minutes. Alan Forrest left the Dundee defence trailing, and it was down to Hamilton to deny them the breakthrough with a firm one-handed save.

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There began to grow a frustration among the home support although Declan McDaid’s 30th minute long-range effort did have them off their seats, before Cammy Kerr’s last-ditch tackle on Luke McCowan provided them with a sense of relief.

Ayr were screaming for a penalty in 40 minutes when Forrest went down under a challenge from Cammy Kerr, but referee Alan Newlands was having none of it.

Dundee emerged from the half-time interval intent on taking the game to their opponents.

Paul McGowan tried his best to open the scoring when he sent a cute chip from inside the box just wide of Ross Doohan’s far post.

Forrest had another golden opportunity in 67 minutes as he found himself right through on goal after a moment of hesitation from Dundee defence, but his low shot was turned round the post by Hamilton.

However, sub Nelson struck in 74 minutes. Jordan Marshall’s pin-point cross was perfect for the ex-Sunderland ace who planted a downward header past Doohan from close-range.

Substitute Josh Todd should have killed the contest right at the death, but he fired weakly at Doohan from point-blank range.

Somerset Park manager Ian McCall said: “I’m just absolutely gutted with the officials.

“I don’t know why the referee didn’t give a penalty. Is it because Ayr United are a so-called smaller club?

“I actually got booked for running onto the park to celebrate as I felt the referee was going to point to the spot.”