THIS was always on the cards. Spurred on no doubt by their 4-0 drubbing in the corresponding fixture, Kilmarnock exacted a measure of revenge as their revival continued with this latest victory at Dens Park.
Back in early August on the first day of the Premiership campaign, Gary Locke’s team were left licking their wounds on their own back-yard with Dundee running all over the top of them, prompting concerns even then they were facing nothing more than a grim fight against relegation.
Yet their resurgence in the weeks since has bordered on the remarkable and here, with only four of the starting line-up surviving from their opening-day humiliation, they posed an entirely different proposition to move to within a point of Paul Hartley’s side.
Goals early on in each half from Northern Ireland striker Josh Magennis and midfielder Steven Smith set them up for their fourth win in six matches, though Rhys Healey’s 76th minute header for the hosts caused Killie a few moments of anxiety towards the end.
“This was our best away performance of the season,” cited Locke afterwards. “We were excellent for 75 minutes but then a bit of slackness led to their goal and then we were left hanging on near the end.”
Killie, with confidence in no short supply, took the lead in the tenth minute. Kallum Higginbotham made space wide on the right to cross for Magennis who still had it plenty to do six yards from goal.
A striker brimming with confidence, the Northern Ireland man jumped between two Dundee defenders to rise and plant a downward header into Scott Bain’s bottom corner for his sixth goal of the season.
Despite Dundee starting to dig deeper, their opponents still carried more of an attacking threat and, in 31 minutes, they really ought to have increased their lead.
A delightful cross from Higginbotham picked out Magennis who’d cleverly peeled off at the far post to give himself some extra room. However, the 25-year-old’s effort from 12-yards lacked a killer instinct, enabling Bain to save it with his legs. Just three minutes into the restart, and the Ayrshire side went further ahead in some style.
This time, Rory McKenzie went on a weaving run to set up Smith and, as the Dundee defence backed off, they lived to regret their collective hesitation as the midfielder rifled an unstoppable 25-yard effort into the corner of the net.
Nick Ross did hit the side-netting for the hosts midway through the second-half, before Healey gave them some hope with a looping header from Stewart’s corner which went across keeper JamieMacDonald and into his far corner.
Then, in 79 minutes, MacDonald had to produce a wonder stop to deny Paul McGinn’s point-blank header, but few could begrudge Kilmarnock their three points.
“It was just a reaction save,” said MacDonald afterwards. “It was a horrible ball and I was thinking about coming for it and then thought no chance.
“So it was the right decision and thankfully I managed to get his header over the bar.”
Dundee manager Hartley refused to hide from his side’s lacklustre display.
“There are no excuses,” said Hartley afterwards.
“We didn’t start playing until about 15 minutes from the end. We were second-best for all of the first-half and the better team won. I just don’t know what it was like that.
“We had worked hard all week on what we wanted to do but just didn’t carry it out.”