Kilmarnock 3 - 1 Dundee: Killie hit three to go top

Kilmarnock were supposed to have had their fun heading up the Premiership in the couple of days they did before their ruthless dethroning at Celtic Park last Saturday. Plenty scoffed and sneered to that effect.

The ball trundles over the line to give Kilmarnock the lead. Pic: SNS/Alan Harvey

Those cynics seemed to forget that Steve Clarke’s men could have at least one day more at the summit. And, with Celtic and Rangers not in action until tomorrow, oh how the Ayrshire team delivered that with a vibrant vanquishing of a Dundee unbeaten in four games. Cue a singing-in-the-rain soiree for the delirious denizens of Rugby Park.

One of these, the club’s PA announcer, set the tone by introducing his manager pre-match as “Sir Steve Clarke”. Plenty have been knighted for less meretricious achievements than those that Clarke has served up in his 14 months at Rugby Park.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“That was just the daft presenter who gets carried away at times,” said Clarke of his mock investiture, before being asked if he blamed the excitable employee. “We were good today. If I could be critical as a coach, we were too open in the first half. I thought right from the start of the second half we were the better team, right on top. Once the game opened up properly for us we played some terrific stuff.”

All true, with a second half onslaught in which his front four of on-loan Birmingham City striker Greg Stewart, who bagged his eighth goal in 13 outings, Eamonn Brophy, Jordan Jones and Chris Burke look capable of leading the Dens Park side to a collapse of Hearts at Livingston proportions.

However, the subject of going top once more just had to bring out the Mr Grinch in the affected curmudgeon that Clarke likes to play. ““Being top of the league isn’t important,” he said. “That we have 34 points from 18 games is important. Our points per game is good. The league table is a not a true reflection. Celtic have three games in hand and I am looking forward to next week already.”

Kilmarnock might never again lead the league, with Celtic and Rangers playing catch up. But their followers have genuine right be enthralled. Both sides served up a game of a quality that defied the conditions, trading glaring opportunities in an open first period before the encounter turned on a messy goals from Jim McIntyre’s point of view.

A 54th minute corner left Kirk Broadfoot hacking away at the ball in a crowded box as if he were trying to dislodge tatties from frozen ground before a fumble from keeper Jack Hamilton allowed the defender to dig for victory successfully by getting the touch to force the ball over. The second goal 12 minute later was another to have Dundee followers groaning with defender Genseric Kusunga sticking out a leg to send a Brophy curling cross past his own keeper at the far post. A terrible triple was completed by Andy Ball passing the ball directly to Burke, who swept over a cross that Stewart buried with aplomb.

Stewart is riding the crest of a wave in now lying only one goal behind leading league scorer Alfredo Morelos. These heady days he wants to continue until well after the winter break. It is one Kilmarnock will enter after potentially winnable games against Hamilton Accies, Motherwell and St Mirren, nine points the clear target.

“We are at that stage now where we feel we can go into any game and beat anybody if we play the way we know we can. Those games are no different. We will take it one game at a time and it is going to be difficult, but we are looking to take maximum points.”

Stewart said the position the club occupy in the league is only a source of amusement - for now. “ But the players just joke about it,” said the 28-year-old. “We take it game by game. It doesn’t matter where you are right now. It’s only later in the season you look at where you are and think – we’ve maybe got a wee chance here. But right now we’re just enjoying our football.”

That might also be said of Dundee striker Kenny Miller, who netted his seventh goal in five games to make it 3-1 at the death. McIntyre, whose side are above last place St Mirren only by that Miller goal, could draw comfort from his veteran’s form - he has scored in each of the past five league games - and a tight first period as a first loss in five was endured. Yet he also had to recognise his team’s deficiencies in the second period.

“There are going to be ups and downs, slaps in the face, poor results,” the Dundee manager said. “It’s about how you bounce back, how you handle it. I need to see a lot better than I did after the first goal went in because it wasn’t good enough. If we play like that we’ll toil, guaranteed.”