Danny Armstrong’s superb strike was enough to lift Kilmarnock off the foot of the cinch Premiership table as they defeated fellow strugglers Dundee United 1-0 at Rugby Park.
Armstrong marked his return from suspension by scoring the only goal to earn his side a priceless three points and lift them up to ninth.
The winger also conceded a penalty during a dramatic first half but Sam Walker rescued him by saving Steven Fletcher’s spot-kick as the disappointing visitors slumped to the foot of the table.
Both sides starting the evening in the bottom two and each manager chose to make four changes to their line-ups following weekend defeats.
Killie boss Derek McInnes drafted in Liam Donnelly, Christian Doidge, Armstrong and new signing Luke Chambers, while United manager Liam Fox brought back Charlie Mulgrew, Ross Graham, Arnaud Djoum and Jamie McGrath.
The home side nearly took the lead in the 19th minute as Kyle Vassell’s clever pass sent McKenzie through on goal but Mark Birighitti produced a crucial save with his feet to keep him out.
The away side had not threatened but they were gifted a chance in the 24th minute as Armstrong needlessly tugged back Dundee United’s Scott McMann to concede a penalty.
However, Kilmarnock goalkeeper Walker dived correctly to his right to keep out Fletcher’s poor spot-kick.
And United were made to pay as Armstrong gave the home side the lead, meeting Chambers’ low cross with a sweet left-foot strike into the top corner from 12 yards.
Kilmarnock were the better side in the opening period and they almost doubled their lead as Ryan Alebiosu – who had just come on as a substitute for the injured Ash Taylor – saw his low shot loop up in the air before it was eventually cleared by Birighitti following a chaotic goalmouth scramble.
The hosts began the second half on top too and they wanted a penalty after Mulgrew’s last-ditch tackle on Vassell but referee Matthew MacDermid was unmoved.
United toiled as the game went on, eventually going close in the 65th minute when Graham’s close-range header flew narrowly over the crossbar.
Kilmarnock should have made the game safe moments later, however, as Vassell released Christian Doidge who could only thrash high and wide with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The chances continued to come for the dominant hosts and they had two further efforts in the 73rd minute but Vassell inexplicably lost his footing when through on goal, while McKenzie saw a close-range shot parried to safety by the busy Birighitti.
Killie’s wastefulness almost came back to haunt them in the 79th minute as Glenn Middleton passed up a golden chance by side-footing a volley wide from eight yards out after a pin-point Liam Smith cross.
Despite their dominance, it proved to be a nervy finish for the hosts as Steven Fletcher’s curling effort flew narrowly over before substitute Rory Macleod dragged a shot just wide off the far post in the 89th minute.