The roar of relief was significant at full time, with Derek McInnes’ side still top by two points thanks to Oli Shaw’s late strike. Queen of the South had threatened to trip up the Ayrshire promotion bid and are fighting for their own Championship lives, but Kilmarnock dug out three important points in their quest to restore top-flight football to Rugby Park.
Arbroath’s own promotion bid refuses to wane and Queens’ resilient performance is warning that Kilmarnock will have to make more of pressure and possession than they did in the first half. Queens’ well-marshalled defence frustrated Fraser Murray, Kyle Lafferty and Shaw early on but also coaxed some clever movement between the attacking trio. They each pulled a shot wide of Josh Rae’s goal within the first quarter of an hour but it was a clever finish from Kilmarnock’s centre-half that eventually made the pressure count.
Lafferty helped a Rory McKenzie cross on to Taylor lurking outside the box and the former Aberdeen defender curled an intricate shot past Rae that tucked just inside the post and no more. It was precise, and precisely what Kilmarnock had needed after a first half of pressure they could not otherwise convert.
Queens had only fired a fleeting – but potent – warning just before the half-hour when Ali Roy cut in from the left wing and swept a shot from 20 yards at the top corner that was pawed out by Zach Hemming.
It would have been against the run of play and harsh on Kilmarnock. When Roy did the same again in the second half and did beat Hemming, it was less so on a home side who were punished for not extending their lead.
After Roy held off Blair Alston on his 40-yard dash and sent the ball across the goalkeeper for the leveller, there were recriminations in the centre circle as Hemming approached his midfield as the visitors celebrated. There were more from the stands moments later as Queens rallied and as momentum threatened to shift, McInnes quickly made the changes – one enforced as Taylor limped off – with Chris Burke and Brad Lyons also added.
It took just four minutes to pay off and a sweeping move from Alston’s ball-winning in midfield, to Burke and a low cross turned in by Shaw with nine minutes remaining relieved the growing tensions in the stands.
It proved a vital goal, keeping the Ayrshire side top by two points, with Arbroath defeating Ayr United 1-0 at Gayfield to maintain their chase thanks to Jack Hamilton’s second-half strike.
Partick Thistle had been coming up the outside in the title race, but Ian McCall’s side’s promotion bid was derailed at home to Hamilton. Andy Ryan scored a goal in either half while further strikes from David Moyo and Andy Winter took Stuart Taylor’s side further away from the bottom zone.
Raith Rovers captain Kyle Benedictus and Ben Williamson were red-carded as the Fife side dramatically lost out Inverness. Two late goals from Logan Chalmers swung the game for the Highlanders in injury-time after Rovers had led 2-1 for the preceding hour with goals from Aidan Connolly and Matej Poplatnik either side of Shane Sutherland’s first half equaliser.