Dundee made two changes from the team that won at Motherwell. Cammy Kerr and Faissal El Bakhtaoui came in for Nick Ross and Craig Wighton. Killie were unchanged after winning at Hamilton.
The Dark Blues started confidently, dominating the midfield and moving the ball around inventively in the Killie half. The first goal threat came from a slick exchange down the right by Tom Hateley and Mark O’Hara, whose low cross was hacked clear from the goalmouth.
Kilmarnock were careless in defence, bringing unnecessary pressure onto themselves by some poor distribution and loss of concentration. The Dark Blues ought to have taken the lead after 18 minutes when Faissal El Bakhtaoui’s crossfield pass found Mark O’Hara running into the box totally unmarked. He squared the ball to Marcus Haber, who had a better angle. Freddie Woodman should have been left with no chance, but pulled out an oustanding save from Haber’s shot from 10 yards.
Kevin Gomis did send the ball into the net with a glancing header from Kevin Holt’s free kick. However, the assistant referee’s flag was up very quickly for what must have been a tight offside decision.
Haber missed another great chance after superb play by El Bakhtaoui, who danced through the Killie defence before hitting a tempting cross to the near post where Haber smashed his header narrowly wide.
The Dee camped out in the Kilmarnock half for the latter stages of the first half pressing and probing for the opening goal. Tom Hateley brought a good save from Woodman with a 30 yard free kick. Another fine move ended with Paul McGowan sending Cammy Kerr to the byline, but Killie scrambled the low cross away.
In the first half Kilmarnock were largely reduced to long balls aimed at the experienced stiking pair of Kris Boyd and Connor Sammon. Dundee coped comfortably with that tactic and the only threat from a disjointed home side was the occasional long range pot shot that failed to trouble Scott Bain.
Dundee took up in the second half as they had finished the first, sending in a wave of attacks at the goal in front of the travelling Dees. Cammy Kerr’s long distance run down the right was taking him into the penalty area till he was brought down by Greg Taylor.
After offering no threat in front of goal Killie almost scored a freakish opener when Bain battered a backpass into the face of substitute Greg Kiltie and the ball rebounded across goal and to safety.
Dundee were soon back on the attack and had a penalty claim when Darren O’Dea seemed to be held by Kristoffer Ajer as he tried to get on the end of a free kick. With the pressure mounting an El Bakhtaoui shot was deflected for a corner before, finally, after 54 minutes, the Dark Blues scored the goal their play merited.
Kevin Holt played the ball down the left to Paul McGowan, whose diagonal run had taken him into space. A clever turn and perfect cross set up Marcus HABER to score with a powerful header from six yards, triggering huge celebrations in the away stand.
Within a minute Killie centre back Gary Dicker went close with a glancing header from a free kick. The goal sparked Kilmarnock into life and they now looked far more dangerous opponents. The Dee had an escape when Kris Boyd’s misdirected header bounced up onto Kevin Gomis’s hand. Referee Mr Thomson decided the contact was purely accidental and waved play on.
There was another scare when Kerr lost the ball to Jordan Jones, who wastefully sent his cross straight out of play instead of picking out a teammate.
After riding that brief storm the Dark Blues settled into a long spell of pressure with Kilmarnock struggling to get out of their own half. The home side were losing shape and concentration as Dee players repeatedly found space with good passing and movement. It might have looked as if Dundee were being gifted easy possession, but this was a matter of hard work and discipline, not good luck.
Mark O’Hara went close with a diving header from Tom Hateley’s dinked cross. He then saw a shot blocked, as did Kevin Holt, with the Dee turning the screw looking for a killer second goal. At the end of a fast break Haber could’t quite reach O’Hara’s cross to the far post.
Killie had been hanging on by their finger tips, but came back strongly in the last 15 minutes. After 78 minutes Scott Bain pulled off the first of two unbelievable saves. Boyd headed the ball on for Kiltie whose header from six yards looked an absolutely certain goal. Astonishingly, Bain managed to react and touch the ball over the crossbar.
Remarkably there will be some debate about whether that was the save of the day. Six minutes later Boyd’s low shot from 16 yards again seemed sure to find the net. It was heading just inside the post but Bain stretched out to tip the ball wide when he looked to have no chance of reaching it.
Craig Wighton came on for El Bakhtaoui for the last 15 minutes, and Nick Ross then replaced McGowan as the Dee switched to a 4-5-1 formation to see the game out.
With the very last touch of the ball Gary Dicker again headed wide from a corner. The referee immediately blew his whistle and the Dark Blues supporters rose to their feet and gave the players a massive and thoroughly deserved ovation.
It might have been a narrow victory that required two top class saves, but there can be no dispute that the Dee were much the better side today. Their movement, passing, pressing and commitment gave them a real edge over Killie for most of the match. The Dark Blues could have tied up the points in an excellent first half, and it was no surprise when they scored the sort of well crafted goal that won the game.
This win was a huge step away from the dreaded play-off spot and it was exactly the sort of committed team performance that Dundee supporters love to watch. The reaction of the fans at the end suggests that there will be a large and enthusiastic turnout next week for Neil McCann’s first match at Dens as manager.
Kilmarnock FC 4-3-3
Hendrie, Dicker, Ajer, Taylor
Wilson (Kiltie at half time), Smith, Longstaff
Jones (Roberts 76), Boyd, Sammon
Unused subs: MacDonald (gk), Graham, Hawkshaw, Osborne, Frizzell.
Booked: Taylor (foul on Kerr).
Dundee FC 4-4-1-1
Kerr, Gomis, O’Dea (c), Holt
O’Hara, Hateley, Vincent, El Bakhtaoui (Wighton 76)
McGowan (Ross 84)
Haber (Ojamaa 90+1)
Unused subs: Ferrie (gk), Williams, Gadzhalov, Higgins.
Booked: Gomis (foul on Jones).
Referee: Craig Thomson. Assistants: David McGeachie, Andrew McWilliam. Fourth official: Scott Millar.
Report: James Christie.