A hat-trick from Johnny Russell transformed Dundee United's afternoon as they came from behind to beat Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Manuel Pascali tucked in the opener for Killie but Russell levelled with a clinical finish before the break.
The diminutive striker headed United in front on 63 minutes from Keith Watson's excellent cross.
Russell slipped the ball past Cammy Bell before Pascali headed a late consolation for the hosts.
A top-six Scottish Premier League finish was set as a target by Peter Houston in the week he announced he would be leaving at the end of the season.
And, with Russell in scoring form again, allied to the return of Gary Mackay-Steven, the Tangerines were able to demonstrate their potent attacking capabilities on a cold afternoon in Ayrshire.
Russell headed a Barry Douglas free-kick into the net only to be flagged offside early in the match.
Mackay-Steven was giving the visitors some impetus, and the winger reminded fans of his skills with an audacious flick-up and header to escape a raft of Killie players before eventually being fouled.
But it was the hosts who took the lead against the run of play, with Pascali slamming the ball home after James Dayton's corner was headed down by Danny Racchi.
Jon Daly and Mackay-Steven were unsuccessful with volleys before the former headed wide as United pressed hard for a leveller.
And the equaliser came shortly before the break with Russell's low drive finding the net after Killie had only partially cleared Keith Watson's cross.
Neither side took a real grip of the game at the start of the second half until Watson went on a marauding run on the right.
The full-back cantered down the flank before sending an inch-perfect delivery onto the head of Russell, who applied the finish.
Russell had another chance when he latched on to a long ball but Bell did well to turn the shot out for a corner.
Killie's Mohamadou Sissoko scraped the outside of the post with a long-range effort and Kenny Shiels' side, playing their first match since the sales of Liam Kelly and Michael Nelson, continued to press in the closing stages.
But the hosts' pursuit of parity left them vulnerable to breakaway attacks and Russell was able to burst away from a stretched defence to sidefoot the ball past Bell and claim a treble.
There was still time for Pascali to head one back for Kilmarnock but the final whistle soon ended the home side's hopes of a comeback.
Live text and stats
Saturday, 19 January 2013
Scottish Premier League
25 Barbour yellow card (Winchester 77)
07 Racchi (Perez 69)
12 Sheridan (McKenzie 70)
11 Mackay-Steven (Skacel 87)
07 Russell (Gardyne 90)
Ref: Craig ThomsonAtt: 4,112
Attempts on target
Attempts off target
90:00+3:32 The final whistle goes and the game is over.
90:00+2:14 Assist by Borja Perez.
90:00+2:14 GOAL - Manuel Pascali:Kilmarnock 2 - 3 Dundee Utd Manuel Pascali fires in a goal from inside the penalty box low into the middle of the goal. Kilmarnock 2-3 Dundee Utd.
90:00+1:52 Corner taken left-footed by Borja Perez,
89:56 Substitution Michael Gardyne replaces Johnny Russell.
87:11 Assist by Barry Douglas.
87:11 GOAL - Johnny Russell:Kilmarnock 1 - 3 Dundee Utd Johnny Russell finds the net with a goal from inside the penalty box to the bottom left corner of the goal. Kilmarnock 1-3
86:19 Substitution Gary Mackay-Steven leaves the field to be replaced by Rudi Skacel.
85:13 Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Rory McKenzie, clearance made by Jon Daly.
83:25 Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Rory McKeown, clearance by Sean Dillon.
80:10 Mohamadou Sissoko has an effort at goal from outside the penalty area which goes wide right of the goal.
78:05 Inswinging corner taken by Barry Douglas, save by Cameron Bell.
77:29 Free kick awarded for a foul by Johnny Russell on James Dayton. Rory McKeown takes the direct free kick.
75:57 Gary Mackay-Steven takes the direct free kick.
75:57 Substitution Jude Winchester on for Ross Barbour.
75:57 Booking Ross Barbour is shown a yellow card.
75:47 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Gary Mackay-Steven by Ross Barbour.
74:57 Outswinging corner taken by Rory McKenzie, clearance by Gavin Gunning.
73:47 Barry Douglas takes the outswinging corner, clearance made by Manuel Pascali.
68:58 Substitution (Kilmarnock) makes a substitution, with Rory McKenzie coming on for Cillian Sheridan.
68:58 Substitution Danny Racchi goes off and Borja Perez comes on.
68:25 Corner taken by Willo Flood.
66:30 Barry Douglas fouled by Danny Racchi, the ref awards a free kick. Barry Douglas takes the free kick.
65:50 Johnny Russell takes a shot. Cameron Bell makes a save.
62:40 Keith Watson provided the assist for the goal.
62:40 GOAL - Johnny Russell:Kilmarnock 1 - 2 Dundee Utd Johnny Russell finds the net with a headed goal from close range. Kilmarnock 1-2 Dundee Utd.
59:47 Outswinging corner taken from the right by-line by Danny Racchi, clearance by Gavin Gunning.
59:27 James Dayton takes a shot. Radoslaw Cierzniak makes a save.
58:02 Foul by Mohamadou Sissoko on Keith Watson, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Barry Douglas.
57:14 John Rankin gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Manuel Pascali. Ryan O'Leary takes the free kick.
55:18 Outswinging corner taken by Barry Douglas from the left by-line, Gavin Gunning produces a left-footed shot from inside the
area that goes over the bar.
51:31 James Dayton produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that misses to the right of the net.
50:13 The official flags Jon Daly offside. Cameron Bell takes the free kick.
48:50 Free kick awarded for a foul by Mark Millar on Rory McKeown. Danny Racchi takes the free kick.
46:39 The assistant referee signals for offside against Jon Daly. Cameron Bell takes the free kick.
45:51 Foul by Mohamadou Sissoko on Johnny Russell, free kick awarded. Willo Flood takes the free kick.
45:01 The match restarts for the second half.
45:00+0:08 The whistle is blown to end the first half.
44:45 Effort from deep inside the area by Paul Heffernan clears the bar.
42:30 GOAL - Johnny Russell:Kilmarnock 1 - 1 Dundee Utd Johnny Russell fires in a goal from inside the box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Kilmarnock 1-1 Dundee Utd.
37:58 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on James Dayton by Keith Watson. Danny Racchi shoots direct from the free kick,
Johnny Russell manages to make a clearance.
36:47 The official flags Gary Mackay-Steven offside. Cameron Bell takes the direct free kick.
35:48 Corner taken left-footed by Barry Douglas.
35:25 Gary Mackay-Steven takes a shot.
34:56 Outswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Barry Douglas, Ryan O'Leary makes a clearance.
32:50 Jon Daly concedes a free kick for a foul on James Fowler. Ross Barbour takes the free kick.
30:00 The referee blows for offside. Gavin Gunning takes the free kick.
29:01 Mohamadou Sissoko fouled by Jon Daly, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Ryan O'Leary.
24:54 Gary Mackay-Steven is ruled offside. Free kick taken by Cameron Bell.
22:14 Jon Daly is penalised for a handball. Cameron Bell takes the free kick.
19:56 Mark Millar has an effort at goal from long distance that goes wide left.
19:20 Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Barry Douglas, clearance made by Cillian Sheridan.
17:40 Danny Racchi provided the assist for the goal.
17:40 GOAL - Manuel Pascali:Kilmarnock 1 - 0 Dundee Utd Manuel Pascali fires in a goal from inside the six-yard box high into the middle of the goal. Kilmarnock 1-0 Dundee Utd.
16:56 Corner taken by James Dayton,
15:46 John Rankin fouled by Paul Heffernan, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Gavin Gunning.
14:09 Foul by Ross Barbour on Gary Mackay-Steven, free kick awarded. Barry Douglas restarts play with the free kick.
11:25 James Dayton gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Mark Millar. Free kick taken by Willo Flood.
10:14 The official flags Jon Daly offside. Cameron Bell takes the free kick.
9:02 Manuel Pascali challenges Gary Mackay-Steven unfairly and gives away a free kick. Mark Millar restarts play with the free
7:22 Outswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Barry Douglas, Cillian Sheridan manages to make a clearance.
5:32 The official flags Gary Mackay-Steven offside. Cameron Bell takes the free kick.
4:50 James Fowler gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jon Daly. Free kick taken by Barry Douglas.
2:49 Outswinging corner taken left-footed by Barry Douglas, James Dayton makes a clearance.
0:33 Mohamadou Sissoko gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Johnny Russell. Barry Douglas restarts play with the free
0:00 The match gets underway.
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