Dundee United are formidable these days and had no intention of relenting last night as they ripped Kilmarnock apart to book their place in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup.
Scorers: Dundee United - Robertson (27, 76), Amstrong (64), Graham (82, pen), Mackay-Steven (84); Kilmarnock - Barr (48), Johnston (50)
Bookings: Kilmarnock - O’Hara, Gabriel
Jackie McNamara’s side even came from behind to sweep past Allan Johnstons’s strugglers in this high-scoring clash on Tayside which had just about everything.
Andrew Robertson opened the scoring for the Tangerines before goals from Darren Barr and Chris Johnston after the break put the visitors ahead, only to sting the hosts into some real action as Stuart Armstrong levelled prior to Robertson’s second of the night.
Substitute Brian Graham then made sure of their passage into the next round with a well-taken penalty in 82 minutes after man-of-the-moment Ryan Gauld had been brought down inside the box by Killie’s Gabriel Reuben, and to make sure winger Gary Mackay-Steven sealed matters with a blistering 22-yard drive after Gauld had put pressure on visiting keeper Craig Samson who could only pass the ball straight to Mackay-Steven who duly did the rest.
Gauld, who was carried off after providing assists for all four goals in United’s 4-1 league win over Partick Thistle the previous weekend, shook off a knee injury in time to face Killie who must privately have been dreading the prospect of trying to tame such an on-form talent.
But the home team knew all the good work leading up to this would automatically go out the window as Kilmarnock attempted to cause a shock.
Killie, for their part, weren’t exactly brimming with confidence as they rolled up at Tannadice on the back of a 2-0 league loss against Motherwell, leaving them second-bottom of the table.
They began as though determined to deny United the kind of space required to work their magic and gradually found their feet.
In 20 minutes, Kris Boyd was released by Craig Slater for the visitors first half-chance of the tie, but the recalled Scotland striker hacked his shot just wide of Radoslaw Cierzniak’s near post. However, they lived to regret not taking that opportunity as United surged up the park a few minutes later to take the lead in style.
It was another free-flowing move which has characterised much of the Taysider’s play this season, with John Rankin linking with Ciftci whose slick pass found Armstrong. Armstrong, in turn, flicked the ball into the path of Robertson who took a touch before beating Samson in the Kilmarnock goal from ten yards.
The visitors carved out a few chances but just before half-time as the hosts attempted to give themselves some breathing space. On this occasion, Mackay-Steven went on one of his trademark runs by bursting into the heart of the Killie penalty area from wide on the right.
After leaving two opposing defenders in his wake, Mackay-Steven laid the ball back for Armstrong but rather uncharacteristically he failed to connect properly and the chance went abegging.
Whatever manager Johnston said to his players at half-time had the desired effect as his side powered ahead within four minutes of the restart.
Firstly, in 47 minutes, they had Cierzniak to thank for coming off his line and missing Craig Slater’s free-kick completely.
Barr couldn’t believe his luck but still he had to show composure as he produced an overhead kick from six yards at the far post to give his side an equaliser which had scarcely looked on the cards going into the interval.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Rugby Park side went one step further by gaining the ascendancy in 49 minutes.
There was no slice of good fortune this time as Johnston picked possession up from deep and had only one thing on his mind as he surged towards goal.
The Killie youngster made the most of the home team backing off before curling a delightful 20-yard effort high into Cierzniak’s top corner.
United had a chance shortly after to get back on level terms only for John Rankin’s shot to be saved by the diving Samson.
Boyd was still posing a threat for Killie by keeping the United defence on their toes but it was the hosts who levelled in 64 minutes.
Ciftci forced his way into the box and looked up to cross for the on-rushing Armstrong who met it perfectly by applying the finishing touch from close-range.
Then, in 75 minutes, Robertson made it 3-2 with a low shot from Gauld’s through pass which beat Samson at his near post before Graham and Mackay-Steven completed the rout.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Wilson, Souttar, Gunning, Robertson, Rankin (Gomis 87), Paton, Armstrong, Gauld (Goodwillie 85), Mackay-Steven, Ciftci (Graham 68). Subs Not Used: Dillon,Watson,Dow,McCallum.
Kilmarnock: Samson, Clohessy (O’Hara 46), Irvine, Barr, Tesselaar, Gabriel (Gros 83), Pascali, Johnston, Slater, Boyd, McKenzie. Subs Not Used: Nicholson, Clingan, Reguero, Ibrahim, Ashcroft.