Scorers: Kilmarnock - Magennis (10); Johnston (52); Clingan (90); Dundee United - Ciftci (3 pen); Anier (13)
It was, moreover, a win which was thoroughly merited after a sustained period of second-half dominance culminated with the Irishman’s sublime strike from 20 yards.
Caretaker manager Gary Locke dedicated the win to his predecessor, Allan Johnston, but can take credit for the boldness of his approach here. Not that he was looking for praise. “It’s important to remember that Allan Johnston did such a good job here so that result was for him,” he said. “I speak to him regularly and I’ll no doubt speak to him later. It’s been a hard couple of weeks for both of us. I’m delighted with the result but I’m thinking about him as well.
“Both teams were trying to win the game and it made for a great spectacle. We were delighted to get the winner when we did and it was a goal fit to win any game.
“To come back from a goal down twice showed that we have characters in our dressing room and, hopefully, we can kick on now.”
The outcome was all the more remarkable considering Killie, not the most durable of sides this season, had to twice come from behind before prevailing.
Pre-match pies were still being devoured when United took the led from the penalty spot. Alexei Eremenko was the villain, wrestling John Rankin to the turf when the diminutive midfielder, who had his back to goal, attempted to get on the end of throw-in from Paul Dixon. Nadir Ciftci converted with aplomb, beating Craig Samson low to his right.
The visitors appeared to be in control at that point and the home support was as surprised as anyone when they found themselves level seven minutes later. Eremenko’s header was flicked on by Manuel Pascali and Josh Magennis scuffed the loose ball behind Radoslaw Cierzniak from nine yards.
Henri Anier might have been offside when Chris Erskine sent him clear but Samson should have removed any controversy by saving the Estonian’s weak shot: instead, he allowed it to slip through his
fingers for United’s second.
Both sides were going for it and, while Anier saw a cross-shot cleared off the line by Chris Chantler, Magennis saw his header from Eremenko’s cross strike the foot of the far post.
However, it was another mistake from Cierzniak which handed Kilmarnock a route back into the game. Chris Johnston did well to get a toe to Tope Obadeyi’s cutback but there was no power in his effort and it should have been comfortably saved by the Pole. Instead, the ball eluded his grasp and ended up in the net.
Killie pounded the visitors but it looked as though the wait for their first home win of the year would be extended until Rankin brought down substitute Paul Cairney on the edge of the penalty area, providing the platform for Clingan to shine. “I’m not sure if I’d have got near the free-kick if Alexei had still been on but I would still have told him that I fancied it,” said the Irishman.
“Sometimes you think: ‘I don’t know if I can get it up and down from here’ but I told Chris Chantler that I really wanted this one. I didn’t even know it was the last minute, which just made it even better. Obviously, we were really pleased with our performance today.
“We gave away some silly goals but, overall, I thought we were fantastic. Our second-half performance was one of our best this season.”
United manager Jackie McNamara was, understandably, less than impressed by his side’s performance. “It’s tough to take and disappointing,” he said. “The three goals we lost today were very poor.
“In the first half I thought we were excellent and we could have had a few more goals. Losing Calum Morris at half-time was a real blow for us. You could see the physical presence Kilmarnock had with Magennis: they had a lot of joy with that. That was a big factor for us.”
Kilmarnock: Samson; Westlake; Connolly; Pascali; Chantler; Johnston (Cairney 86); Clingan; Slater (Hamill 73); Odabeyi; Eremenko (Eccleston 86); Magennis.
Dundee United: Cierzniak; McGowan; Dillon; Morris (Spark 46); Dixon; Telfer; Rankin; Dow; Erskine (Spittal 57); Anier (Muirhead 73); Ciftci
Referee: Stephen Finnie. Attendance: 3,788
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