AT THE start of the season this would have been described as daylight robbery, but at this time of the year it constitutes a smash-and-grab in the gloaming by a Dundee United side that was comprehensively outplayed for large parts of this encounter by a Kilmarnock side which did everything but put the ball in the net, thanks in large part to a trio of outstanding saves from Nicky Weaver.
Unfortunately for the Ayrshire men, that rather crucial part of the equation was about all that their deceptively limited visitors offered, and even then they had to rely on the combination of Jennison Myrie-Williams' virtuosity and some eccentric refereeing from Stevie O'Reilly to break the deadlock.
"That was by far the best performance of the season where we've got nothing," said Killie manager Jim Jefferies afterwards. "In open play we were fantastic, especially in the first half, and were ten times better than when we beat St Johnstone. But all of that counts for nothing if you can't put the ball in the goal."
If Dundee United flattered to deceive, then the artisans of Kilmarnock can have few complaints about the outcome because they had plenty enough possession and chances to have won this game with ease. They set off with real purpose and if the opening exchanges were full of errors and stray passes, they were also characterised by a directness and endeavour from Killie that almost paid dividends when they were twice denied penalties within the opening ten minutes. The first came when Kevin Kyle looked all set to ram the ball home from close range only to be barged off the ball, the second came moments later when David Fernandez was pushed to the ground even more obviously, only for the player to be adjudged offside.
Within five minutes Kyle muscled his way on to a speculative punt forwards and went close in a move in which Jamie Hamill was bowled over in the box and could conceivably have won a penalty. Actually, it's fair to say that O'Reilly was having a bit of a nightmare, and when he missed a handball in the United box and then brought an apoplectic Fernandez back for a United foul when the Spaniard had a clear run on goal, the stand almost erupted.
On 20 minutes it was confirmed that the good burghers of Kilmarnock won't be offering Mr O'Reilly the freedom of the town any time soon when he awarded United the softest of penalties as Myrie-Williams went down like a sack of spuds at the softest of touches from Garry Hay. Damian Casalinuovo's penalty wasn't great but still had enough to squirt under Killie keeper Mark Brown.
With the home side avoiding the resolute Andy Webster by working the left wing relentlessly, with Mehdi Taouil, Fernandez and Hay combining time after time to provide Kyle with a constant flow of ball, the best of the chances were all coming Killie's way, with Fernandez heading wide of an open goal shortly after United's opener, while Gavin Skelton was even more culpable moments later when he hoiked the ball into row Z from close range.
If Dundee United weaved some pretty patterns, their almost total lack of shots on goal was telling. Only a long-range shot from Morgaro Gomis shortly before half-time forced Brown into action.
United had Weaver to thank for their half-time lead, with the keeper saving magnificently from Kyle after Fernandez got behind Webster and headed the ball down to the big striker, whose decision to use power rather than precision meant Killie's best chance of the half went begging. Hay almost made amends when the ball broke to him, but his shot across goal missed the back post by inches. Kyle's opposite number endured the same frustration as Kyle when Brown's near-post save denied Casalinuovo, but it was Killie who were making all the running.
Yet just as Killie looked likely to get back on level terms, United scored another completely against the run of play. This time it was David Goodwillie who made the initial break, feeding Myrie-Williams on the right. The Englishman's run took him deep into the Killie penalty box and as Brown came out to meet him he poked the ball across goal for Casalinuovo to knock it in.
Killie pressed until the last, even though it left them increasingly open to United counter attacks, but it looked like it wasn't fated to be.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Jennison Myrie-Williams made both of Dundee United's goals, first by winning a penalty and then by laying the goal on a plate to Casalinuovo.
Dundee United are called the Arabs because the liberal use of sand to make Tannadice playable for their Cup tie against Albion Rovers during the Big Freeze of 1962/3 made the pitch look like the Sahara.
The first goal. Garry Hay said he didn't touch Jennison Myrie-Williams and Jim Jefferies said that he thought "the lad played for it, that there was no contact".