ANYONE considering writing a thesis on the futility of gambling would have found this encounter hugely productive.
Scorers: Kilmarnock: Boyd (74); Dundee: Harkins (6, 77)
It had the lot: the doomed team, in a match which could have confirmed their relegation, seizing the initiative away from home and defeating opponents with European aspirations. Oh, and SPL record goalscorer Kris Boyd both scoring and missing sitters.
Once the dust had settled, Kilmarnock had failed to claim a top-six finish and, with it, the opportunity to qualify for the adventure of a European campaign for the first time since 2001.
Victory at Rugby Park yesterday would have lifted them into fourth place, but such are the fine margins in Scotland’s top tier this season that they now find themselves on the outside of the top six looking in.
Manager Kenny Shiels was completely inconsolable afterwards. “The fans and the club trusted me and I didn’t deliver,” he said. “The players aren’t at fault:
I need to shoulder the responsibility.”
Kilmarnock started briskly enough and Steve Simonsen did well to keep out Boyd’s close-range header from a Garry Hay corner.
The home fans sat back and waited for the floodgates to open. And then Dundee scored. Of course, it had to be Gary Harkins who delivered the coup de grace.
Forced out of Rugby Park in January, the languid midfielder, well aware that revenge is a dish best served cold, has kept his counsel since his departure.
He made no attempt to conceal his delight after opening the scoring, however, and he had much to be proud of. Harkins dummied a pass from Jim McAlister and then moved onto space to collect a pass from John Baird before passing the ball behind the blameless Cammy Bell.
Boyd ought to have restored parity immediately afterwards when an audacious dink from Borja Perez left him with only Simonsen to beat but he snatched at the opening and screwed his shot wide.
The second half followed a similar pattern, with Kilmarnock struggling to find – and occasionally abandoning – their passing game.
After much huffing and puffing, the home side equalised with 17 minutes left. Declan Gallagher failed to cut out a cross from William Gros and this time Boyd controlled the ball first time before finishing with panache, firing low into Simonsen’s left-hand corner.
Unfortunately for Killie, Harkins was not finished. He twisted the knife a second time just four minutes later, lashing a Lewis Toshney cross past Bell from six yards to give his side only their second league win on the road.
Afterwards, he sympathised with the home players but one got the impression that Shiels’ disappoinment would not have concerned him too much.
“I enjoyed it, to be honest, but I feel for the Killie players,” said Harkins. “They have worked hard all season under difficult circumstances.
“But in football you need to put friendships aside. I did that and scored two goals. I knew I was good enough to play at Rugby Park and I hope I proved that.
“You have situations in any job where you don’t get on with the boss but I moved club and got on with things.
“Maybe he’ll go home and look at things differently. I didn’t have a point to prove as the players at Killie knew I should have played and they will tell you that if you ask them.
“I went through a year and half of being brought off every week no matter how I was playing.”
The victory means that Dundee are not yet officially relegated and that, in itself, was a cause for celebration for Harkins.
“It would have been horrible if we were to relegated at my old ground so I’m delighted and now we need to try and win every game we have left,” he said.
Dundee’s interim manager, John Brown, was delighted by the performance and the outcome.
“We deserved it,” he said. “They didn’t have too many chances and were reduced to shooting from long range. We had the better chances.
“Gary had a point to prove today. People say he’s slow but he’s like Eric Cantona – you just let him go and express himself.”