How Kilmarnock's late goal habit rescued a point against Dundee United

Kilmarnock fans won’t let anyone forget the dramatic Championship winning finale to last season – and were given a timely reminder with an equally late finish rescuing a point on their return to the Premiership.

Ash Taylor’s injury-time equaliser earned an opening day point and cancelled out Dylan Levitt’s first-half strike for ten-man United, who had Ian Harkes sent off for two second-half bookings.

Waving flags celebrating last season’s second-tier win and lauding the time ‘Alston won the league at Rugby Park’ with an injury-time strike against Arbroath, chairman Billy Bowie performed the flag day honours pre-match. The enthusiasm generated from that trophy ceremony translated into a positive start from the home side, with three chances falling for Liam Polworth in the first half, but United debutant Mark Birighitti was a measure of each.

There is much to like on both sides and, if Kilmarnock can find a more clinical edge and Jack Ross can keep a full complement on the park, both will fancy their chances after a bright afternoon in Ayrshire.

The smell of spent propane from pre-match flamethrowers was still in the air when Polworth was first inside the six-yard box but his tame lift was blocked. His next was better, skimming the outside of the post from distance on the quarter-hour.

Craig Sibbald made an impressive start to his Dundee United career dictating play in the midfield and won a free-kick from Taylor a minute later. Charlie Mulgrew curled around the wall, but Sam Walker palmed out. The attempt proved to be United’s best chance until the goal as Killie resumed their attacks, and United captain Ryan Edwards teed up another for Polworth with a slack pass from defence but Birighitti again held the midfielder’s effort.

It took until the 26th minute for the first chant critical of referee Willie Collum, warning Scott McMann for high challenge on Shaw. Only then was season 2022-23 well and truly underway. United’s really kicked off two minutes from the break.

After a first half dominated by the home side, Liam Smith’s cut-back was held in by Steven Fletcher using all his experience and patience to roll a backheel into the path of Dylan Levitt. The Welsh midfielder smashed a powerful drive beyond Walker from the edge of the area and the pre-match flames were replaced by celebratory orange smoke billowing from the away end.

Kilmarnock's Ash Taylor celebrates making it 1-1. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

Enthusiasm shifted to the visitors for the start of the second half but would turn to nerves by the end. Mulgrew curled another free kick over and Harkes had a header held by Walker – before a costly incursion for kicking the ball from the goalkeeper’s hands as he prepared to launch upfield. The petulance brought a booking from Willie Collum, compounded by another for a foul on Liam Donnelly with 20 minutes to go and United were reduced to ten men.

Kilmarnock made the most of their man advantage and Shaw thought he had equalised with a shot thundering off the bar and surface – so did the PA system music that greeted the 77th minute strike – but it hadn’t crossed the line according to referee Collum. With the introduction of VAR delayed, Killie would have to wait until Taylor’s last-gasp leveller and a deserved point for the home side.

Killie: Walker, Wright, Taylor, Mayo, Power (Donnelly 59), Alebiosu (Murray 59), McInroy, Polworth (Cameron 78), McKenzie, Shaw, Lafferty (Armstrong 66).United: Birighitti, Smith, McMann, Edwards, Mulgrew, Sibbald, Levitt, Harkes, Cudjoe (Middleton 55), Fletcher (Niskanen 70), Watt (Graham 75).

The 2021/2022 Championship winners flag is unfurled during a cinch Premiership match between Kilmarnock and Dundee United. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Dundee United's Dylan Levitt (R) celebrates making it 1-0 with Liam Smith. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
Dundee United's new signing Glenn Middleton. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)
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