Three crosses from the right from Craig Conway provided three headed goals for Dundee United before Conway added a fourth with a terrific solo goal. Manuel Pascali and substitute David Silva pulled two goals back for Kilmarnock but the defeat leaves caretaker-manager Kenny Shiels still seeking his first win since the departure of Mixu Paatelainen.
Dundee United were without Mihael Kovacevic, Morgaro Gomis and Sean Dillion who were all sent off in the 4-0 defeat to Rangers. Peter Houston also dropped Johnny Russell and brought in Conway, Keith Watson, Barry Douglas and Prince Bauben. They started in their usual 4-5-1/4-3-3 with Conway and Danny Swanson either side of David Goodwillie in attack.
Kilmarnock replaced goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola with Cammy Bell, their only other change was to replace David Silva with Garry Hay. Hay took up an unfamiliar left-midfield role designed to nullify the threat of Swanson. The tactic worked as Swanson had one of his quieter games since returning from injury. Alexei Eremenko began as a second striker in a 4-4-1-1 formation but seemed to drop deeper as the match wore on.
Dundee United win midfield battle
The match was played at a slower pace than most SPL matches with both sides intent on patiently building attacks. Dundee United’s usual strategy is to move the ball quickly to Swanson and Conway and get them to run at the full-backs, however, the deep-lying nature of the Kilmarnock midfield and the fact that Hay and Liam Kelly were deployed to help their respective full-backs double up on the Dundee United wingers meant that they were unable to carry this out effectively.
Dundee United’s midfield three in recent months, no matter who has been chosen to play there, is fluid in nature and today was no different. They got the better of Craig Bryson and James Fowler in the early stages of the match and their dominance forced Eremenko to drop deeper as the game progressed. The most noteworthy midfield player in the opening forty-five minutes was David Robertson. He made several great runs into the box and caused the shaky Kilmarnock defence no end of problems.
Three Conway crosses put United 3-0 ahead
Despite Dundee United’s dominance from open play, three of their four goals were headers and resulted from corner kicks. The first was headed into the net by Scott Severin directly from Conway’s corner and the second was taken short, returned to Conway and headed in from Goodwillie via Conway’s cross, giving Dundee United a 2-0 lead going into half time. The third, minutes after the break, saw Kilmarnock clear yet another Conway corner before Eremenko was crowded out by a few Dundee United players, leading to another Conway cross that was again headed into the net by Goodwillie for his second of the match.
The third goal was indicative of Kilmarnock’s performance. They were caught out by Dundee United’s constant harassing on too many occasions when trying to build from the back. It is a strategy that has served them well this season, however, their execution of it has not been the same since Paatelainen left to manage the Finnish national team.
Conway capped a man of the match performance with a tremendous solo goal within two minutes of the third. He worked space for himself with a u-turn of a run and fired emphatically past Bell from distance. Kilmarnock had made a double change at half time, replacing Bryson and the injured Ryan O’Leary with David Silva and James Dayton, but they barely had a chance to settle into the match before their side found themselves 4-0 down.
Too little, too late from Kilmarnock
Kilmarnock had also reshuffled their side at half time, moving Tim Clancy to central defence, Hay to his usual left-back role, Kelly into central midfield, meaning Silva and Dayton took up their positions on either wing. As the second half wore on, Dundee United became increasingly defensive but always looked like they could sneak another goal on the counter. Silva added more impetus to the Kilmarnock attack and reduced the deficit with a terrific strike from around twenty-five yards.
The away side had stuck to their patient approach throughout and were eventually rewarded although by now Dundee United were happy to defend their lead and see the match out. Manuel Pascali headed in a second for Kilmarnock from a Jamie Hamill corner in the dying minutes but it was too little too late from the Ayrshire side.
Kilmarnock were extremely poor for an hour and seem devoid of confidence since their change of manager. There was a ten minute spell in the first half when Goodwillie was off the pitch receiving treatment in which Kilmarnock still found themselves hemmed in by Dundee United. It wasn’t until the final twenty minutes that Kilmarnock began to cause their opponents any real problems but by that time the deficit was insurmountable.
Usually, Swanson is the main driving force from the Dundee United midfield five but his threat was negated by the deployment of Hay on the left of midfield for Kilmarnock. Instead it was fellow winger Conway who provided three assists and a goal which provided the victory. A mention should also go to David Robertson who got forward at every opportunity to trouble the Kilmarnock defence.