But if the win eases the pressure on Rugby Park boss Gary Locke, it did nothing to soothe the ailing relationship between the Tannadice punters and manager Jackie McNamara.
Coming back from their first-half deficit, the fans had greeted the equalising goal by Billy McKay with a singalong extolling their love for the club.
It was a reprise of the song sung prior to kick-off, in the moments following a Ralph Milne montage that had softened the hearts and imbued souls with hope. There had been little evidence of that love in the interim as Dundee United huffed and puffed but rarely knocked on Jamie MacDonald’s door, let alone found a way to barge their way past the Kilmarnock goalkeeper.
There was certainly no evidence when, despite upping their game significantly in the second period and pushing forward in the hope of building on the 66th minute spotkick, they failed time and time again to find the clinical shot required to finish off their guests. The opportunities began to pile up but so too did the misses, the last gasp blocks and the ultimately decisive saves and when the thought of trudging out of Tannadice with just a point started to feel sore, they were dealt a boot to the nether regions when Kilmarnock broke upfield and conjured up a winner from an audacious slice of individual brilliance.
From nowhere, new signing Kevin McHattie picked up the ball just inside the Dundee United half and from 30 yards out, with the time and confidence to see things through, he flicked the ball in the air and lashed a shot on the half volley which stunned Luis Zwick in the home goal. With only a minute of the match remaining, there was no way back, leaving under-fire Killie to celebrate their first taste of success and leave the home fans struggling to choke back the bile.
“For a change I’m a happy man,” said Locke. “We’ve done a lot of good work over the past two weeks and the international break has come at a good time for us. We’re just delighted to get the three points.
“It’s been a difficult start for us but you’ve got to remember there have been a lot of changes and we haven’t hit the ground running.
“But once they all settle in and show what they’re capable of, I still feel we can do well. The last few minutes just summed up football.”
At full-time, the home choir rounded on McNamara but he was more gutted with the outcome of the match than the outburst of the fans.
“It’s part and parcel of my job and I have to accept that,” he said. “The buck stops with me. If the results are not there then I won’t be here, pure and simple. I’d be more concerned if we aren’t playing the right way or creating chances. We could do with a little bit of luck of front of goal.
“I said before the game that someone is going to take a hiding from us and it should have been this one.
“To be honest, I’d have been disappointed with a draw. It was there for everyone to see that we should have had the game wrapped up. It came down to good goalkeeping and not getting the breaks here and there.”
In a fairly even and uneventful first half, Kilmarnock had taken the lead when Kallum Higginbotham had converted a penalty which came courtesy of a rash Sean Dillon challenge on Rory McKenzie just inside the box. In the second half, it was United who looked superior, but Kilmarnock looked desperate for the win and put bodies on the line delivering.
Ryan McGowan, Ryan Dow and McKay all came close, but timely blocks and the post kept them out. After McKay scored from the spot, that pressure intensified, but too many touches and the lack of a clinical finish cost them in a frantic spell when they danced about the box, played pinball and then rattled in one shot and failed to convert another as MacDonald left Dow in “disbelief” when he threw his body at his 84th-minute-close range effort.
“I just couldn’t believe it didn’t go in,” said Dow. “The keeper made the save but it’s a miss. I needed to score that. If I do, we win 2-1. I take responsibility for that.”