Kilmarnock have been crowned winners of the Scottish Championship after a hard-fought last-minute 2-1 comeback win over their nearest title challengers Arbroath.
Derek McInnes’ team earn promotion at the first time of asking on the back of relegation from last season’s Premiership.
James Craigen got on the end of a lightening counter-attack move to put Arbroath ahead after just nine minutes, while Ash Taylor poked home an equaliser from close range 12 minutes from time before Blair Alston rifled home in second-half stoppage time to complete an incredible turnaround.
It was the case of a redemption story vs fairytale at a sold-out and raucous Rugby Park.
Kilmarnock ended a 28-year stay in the Scottish top-flight last year after losing an emphatic play-off final against Dundee, while Dick Campbell’s Arbroath secured a third-consecutive season in the second tier with a tense goalless draw against Morton at Gayfield on the final day of the campaign.
On Friday night, Kilmarnock started on the front foot and spurned a gilt-edged chance to open the scoring after eight minutes.
Fraser Murray beat his man to the byline and his low ball across the face of goal found Kyle Lafferty, whose effort was blocked tremendously by Derek Gaston.
However, it was the visitors who broke the deadlock in scintillating fashion on the counter-attack.
Scott Stewart made a lung-bursting run forward and played a lovely one-two with Liam Donnelly before squaring the ball to Craigen, who managed to scuff his shot into the far corner beyond Zach Fleming.
The home side looked rattled and were deservedly booed off at half-time after a below-par first-half performance – but McInnes’ side came out all guns blazing at the start of the second half.
Alston’s effort from close range was again thwarted by the feet of Gaston and a few moments later, Killie were incensed they were not awarded a penalty after Rory McKenzie went down under a challenge from Chris Hamilton.
The home side continued to pile the pressure on the Arbroath defence and nearly levelled after 67 minutes when Lafferty towered highest at the far post but headed inches over the crossbar.
The centre-forward thought he had netted his equaliser when he swept the ball home moments later but it was quickly ruled out for offside.
Killie kept on asking questions of a resolute Red Lichties defence, and eventually they were undone from a set-piece.
Taylor’s powerful header forced a save from Gaston but the rebound fell straight into the path of the defender who managed to bundle the ball over the line following a goal-mouth scramble.
Gaston, who was in inspirational form, made a fantastic triple save to deny two curling efforts from Murray and a deflected strike from Lafferty as the hosts pushed for a late winner.
The goalkeeper stood no chance as Kilmarnock clinched the Championship title in the most dramatic fashion in the dying embers, causing absolute bedlam in the Rugby Park stands.
Ollie Shaw managed to hold up the ball on the edge of the box before feeding it into the path of Alston, who managed to rifle an unstoppable effort into the bottom-right corner.
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