JON Daly was the two-goal hero for Dundee United last night as they came from behind in style to deny Kilmarnock a win which would have taken them into fourth place in the SPL in their Friday night thriller at Tannadice.
Dundee United - Mackay-Steven 48, Daly 56, 90
Kilmarnock - Sheridan 9, 30, Heffernan 53
Referee: A Muir
Peter Houston’s men seemed dead and buried when Cillian Sheridan fired Kilmarnock into a 2-0 first-half lead but United hit back thanks to Daly’s double as well as Gary Mackay-Steven’s stunning second-half strike.
Sheridan gave the Ayrshire side a first-half lead with goals in eight and 30 minutes before Mackay-Steven mounted United’s fightback only for Paul Heffernan to capitalise on some sloppy defending by the hosts shortly after.
In 77 minutes, Sheridan had the ball in the net for what would have been his hat-trick but referee Alan Muir was quick to raise his flag for offside.
And Daly struck a late leveller when he stooped to head home Barry Douglas’s perfect cross and send the home fans away happy.
Mackay-Steven made his long-awaited first start for the hosts after overcoming a recent knee injury. He was joined by defender Douglas who’d shrugged off an ankle injury which had kept him out of their last two outings and he replaced the injured Keith Watson.
Kilmarnock not surprisingly kept the same side which had comprehensively beaten Ross County 3-0 last weekend.
There was some added spice going into this game after United midfielder Willo Flood had hit back at Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels for branding the Tayside team long-ball merchants the last time they met.
Back in August, it was Killie who ran out 3-1 winners so the hosts had plenty of incentive to exact some revenge this time.
Prior to this match, Houston had spoken about how much he loved Friday night football. Earlier in the season, United drew 0-0 with County in the Friday night fixture but there were no shortage of spills that night so Houston was hoping for a similar performance but with a bit more cutting edge.
Like United, Kilmarnock have been searching for consistency this season although one thing normally guaranteed when these two teams meet is a open game with plenty goal-mouth action.
The visitors seemed more fired up and wasted no time in settling and came close early on when Borja Perez tried his luck from 30 yards which Radoslaw Cierzniak in the United goal was relieved to see clear his crossbar.
Minutes later, John Rankin was short with a header back which led to Sheridan crossing but Heffernan couldn’t keep his shot down and fired well over the top with his left foot.
But they didn’t have to wait too much longer before making the breakthrough which arrived in style in eight minutes.
Sean Dillon fouled Sheridan 30 yards from goal and with only one thing on his mind, up stepped the big striker to curl an inch-perfect free-kick outwith the reach of Cierzniak and into the top corner.
It was a stunning strike from Republic of Ireland star Sheridan and one which left the hosts somewhat shell-shocked.
But they did have a chance to level in 16 minutes when Johnny Russell, who’d experienced a return to form in front of goal recently, was set up by Mackay-Steven’s drilled cross into the box.
From a matter of yards, though, Russell uncharacteristically snatched at his effort and watched it fly high over Cammy Bell’s bar. Killie were still the sharper side though and midway through the first half they could have increased their lead.
Sheridan again found himself space in behind the home defence but on this occasion he was wild with his final effort which ended up well wide of the target.
However, in 30 minutes Sheridan put his side further in front with the sort of finish which oozed class.
Former Dundee playmaker Gary Harkins had the assist with a deftly weighted pass which split the United defence, allowing Sheridan to run in behind and dink a left-footed finish beyond Cierzniak and into the opposite corner of the net.
Just minutes before the interval, Mackay-Steven was set up by Daly but his weak shot went straight at Bell.
Within minutes of the restart, Mackay-Steven sparked a comeback with an unstoppable strike from 30 yards before Heffernan struck minutes later when Cierzniak failed to deal with a Perez header into the box and Heffernan lopped home a 16-yard header.
Then things really kicked into action when Daly nodded past Bell from Douglas’s 56th-minute cross and Sheridan looked to have netted in 75 minutes but was judged to have been in an offside position.
With just minutes of injury-time left, Daly showed his leadership qualities with a typically brave diving header from another Douglas cross to round off a courageous fightback.
Dundee Utd: Cierzniak, McLean, Dillon, Gunning, Douglas, Armstrong, Flood, Rankin, Mackay-Steven, Russell, Daly. Subs: Banks, Ryan, Millar, Gardyne, Dow, Skacel, Barrett.
Kilmarnock: Bell, Fowler, O’Leary, Nelson, Tesselaar, Perez, Kelly, Harkins, Pascali, Sheridan, Heffernan. Subs: Letheren, Dayton, Johnson, McKeown, Taylor, O’Hara, Sissoko.