DUNDEE, denied the chance to win promotion to the Premiership last season when the play-offs were abandoned as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, clinched their return to the top flight in convincing fashion at Rugby Park tonight.

Leading 2-1 from the first leg of the final at Dens Park last Thursday evening, the visitors scored twice in the opening 12 minutes to leave their beleaguered opponents Kilmarnock facing an almost impossible task.

Northern Ireland internationalist Kyle Lafferty gave the hosts a lifeline in the second-half when he slotted home a penalty and he and his team mates fought bravely to the final whistle.

But the Ayrshire outfit, who last played in the second tier of Scottish football 28 years ago, were consigned to relegation at the end of another desperately disappointing 90 minutes as their rivals celebrated joyously in front of them.  

Kilmarnock’s fall from prominence since their former manager Steve Clarke, who led them to third place in the Premiership in his second season, left two years ago to take over at Scotland has been spectacular.

Home supporters were allowed inside the BBSP-sponsored stadium for the first time in the 2020/21 campaign and around 500 of them filed into the East Stand before kick-off to cheer their heroes on. But their presence made no difference.

Indeed, the socially distanced spectators showed admirable restraint not to walk out when Danny Mullen fired the away side in front and then when Lee Ashcroft put the final outcome beyond any doubt soon after.

The majority of them stayed until the final whistle to applaud Kirk Broadfoot and his team mates for their efforts in the last 10 months. But a few must have wished they had been denied entry to the ground in the first place.

Tommy Wright has improved Kilmarnock since replacing Alex Dyer as manager back in February thanks in no small part to the goals Kyle Lafferty, who was signed on a short-term deal following his arrival, has provided.

However, the former St Johnstone manager has been unable to shore up a porous rearguard. The defensive deficiencies which have cost them so dear this term resurfaced once again last night and were punished ruthlessly.

Dundee became the latest club to be left aggrieved by the premature curtailment of the 2019/20 season and the difficult decisions made by their fellow SPFL clubs last year to clinch promotion. Hearts, Partick Thistle and Kelty Hearts have all also done so.  

Wright made two changes to the team that had performed so poorly on Tayside four days earlier. His captain Gary Dicker was unavailable for selection in midfield due to an ankle injury and his place was taken by Aaron Tshibola. Elsewhere, Greg Kiltie made way for Rory McKenzie.

His opposite number James McPake, meanwhile, replaced full-back Christie Elliott, who limped off with a flesh wound that required stitches in the first leg, with Jordan Marshall.

The visiting defence was called into action early on when Cammy Kerr, who reverted to his favoured right back position in the absence of Elliott, had to nod a dangerous deflected cross out for a corner.

The home backline failed to show the same sort of composure under pressure. The first goal was a comedy of errors. Neither Brandon Haunstrup or Alan Power dealt with a punt upfield from Charlie Adam and Paul McMullan capitalised on their indecisiveness by pinching possession.

He drove forward through the centre of the park before sliding a pass to Mullen outside him. Ross Millen was posted missing at right back and the striker had the simplest of tasks to slot beyond the cruelly exposed Colin Doyle.

If anything, the second goal Kilmarnock concededed was even softer. Paul McGowan floated a corner into the six yard box, Zeno Ibsen Rossi fell spectacularly to the artificial turf with a scream and Ashcroft was unchallenged as he nodded into the net.   

Wright removed Haunstrup after half an hour and put on Danny Whitehall up front alongside Lafferty. But they failed to trouble Adam Legzdins in the Dundee goal.

The Championship outfit nearly went three ahead six minutes before half-time when McGhee got on the end of a McMullan cut back and headed onto the crossbar.

The ball broke to McGowan and the midfielder appealed for a penalty when McKenzie slid in and appeared to handle. Referee Bobby Madden was unimpressed and allowed play to continue. It would have been a soft award.  

The Kilmarnock dressing room would not have been a particularly pleasant place to be at half-time. But Wright looked like he had accepted his side’s fate long before then. He put on Greg Kiltie for Chris Burke before an hour had elapsed and his men did, to their enormous credit, pull a goal back.

Legzdins barged over McKenzie clumsily as he challenged for an aerial ball and Madden pointed straight to the spot. Lafferty accepted responsibility and made no mistake. It was his 13th goal in his 13th game and was by far the most important. His strike roused the home support. But it proved to be too little too late.  

Tempers flared on the touchline at the end when Wright took exception to comments made by McPake. Voices were raised and the two managers had to be separated by fourth official Steven McLean. But the gulf between the two teams on the park was considerable and the emphatic aggregate triumph deserved.