Derek McInnes was thrilled after his Kilmarnock side edged closer to securing European football with a confident victory over St Johnstone.

Killie deservedly took the lead midway through the first half when Joe Wright turned home Liam Polworth’s pin-point delivery – and the visitors were denied on multiple occasions to extend their advantage by the heroics of Dimitar Mitov.

The game was settled with nine minutes remaining after Marley Watkins tapped home his 13th goal of the season.

Kilmarnock have extended their advantage in fourth place to eight points, with just five games remaining.

“I thought first half we were very good,” McInnes said.

“Coming away from home, we tried to impose ourselves. We spoke throughout the week about the importance of matching their motivation.

“We knew we were up against a team with so much riding on the game, we had to match that and a bit more.

“I was bemoaning the fact we didn’t get that second goal, which we maybe merited for our first half dominance as an away team – to have that control was really pleasing.

“We never got started in first 20 minutes of the second half but thankfully we got the second.

“It’s not easy winning games in this league, especially away from home – we did a lot right and credit to our players.”

Despite moving one step closer to returning to Europe for the first time since 2019, the Rugby Park boss insists there is still work to do.

Kilmarnock have lost just one of their 11 Premiership encounters since returning from the winter break in January.

He added: “There’s still work to be done and hopefully a few more special days to have.”

Craig Levein felt his team failed to hit the heights of recent performance during a lacklustre showing.

Saints were unable to build on their excellent victory against Hibernian at Easter Road as they slumped to defeat at McDiarmid Park.

St Johnstone remain 10th in the table and look set for a battle to avoid the play-off position in their post-split fixtures.

“The rollercoaster is back in operation. It was a hell of a frustrating afternoon,” Levein said.

“After the last two games I’ve been talking fairly confidently about continuing at that level.

“We didn’t play with the confidence I thought we should’ve done because of our previous performances.

“Individually we didn’t have that many players who played anywhere near their best.

“Kilmarnock didn’t batter us by any stretch of the imagination and we had some good chances.”

Kilmarnock continued their European surge after a comfortable 2-0 victory over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.

Joe Wright opened the scoring midway through the first half, and Derek McInnes’ side could have been out of sight had it not been for the heroics of Dimitar Mitov.

The game would be put out of reach with nine minutes remaining when Marley Watkins tapped home his 13th goal of the season.

Killie have moved eight points ahead in fourth spot in the cinch Premiership, while their hosts remain in a battle to avoid the relegation play-off after another poor home showing.

Kyle Vassell took his goal tally for the season to 10 last weekend and he really should have opened the scoring after getting on the end of Danny Armstrong’s cross in the second minute.

The ball dropped nicely at the feet of the striker, but he failed to make a proper connection, resulting in an important block by Dan Phillips.

It took a brilliant challenge by Andy Considine to prevent a potential breakaway after Luke Robinson carelessly surrendered possession to Vassell.

St Johnstone had failed to create anything of note going forward. However, Matt Smith’s wind-assisted cross almost caught out Will Dennis.

Kilmarnock made the breakthrough on 23 minutes, Liam Polworth sent over a tantalising delivery, which Wright stretched to turn beyond Mitov from six yards.

Armstrong went close to doubling the visitors’ lead with a free-kick that narrowly missed its mark, while at the other end, Robinson worked Dennis after a positive forward run.

The chances kept coming for Killie. Watkins was denied by a smart stop from Mitov, before Matty Kennedy’s quickly taken corner struck the face of the crossbar with the Saints keeper still organising his defence.

Mitov was having a busy afternoon and was called into action again when Watkins latched on to Armstrong’s clever through ball.

Craig Levein’s side looked brighter after the restart. David Keltjens sliced over, then Max Kucheriavyi stung the palms of the keeper with a curling strike from the edge of the box.

They were almost punished for their lack of cutting-edge however, as Stuart Findlay struck the side-netting after a rare lapse of concentration by Mitov.

It required a tremendous goal-line clearance to prevent Watkins doubling Killie’s lead with 23 minutes left on the clock.

The loose ball then broke the way of Polworth who fired a goal-bound effort that Mitov brilliantly parried around the post.

There was another scare from the resulting corner for the home side, Liam Donnelly rose highest to connect, but the home keeper produced more heroics to keep the deficit at one.

After surviving an onslaught, Saints almost got back on terms when Dennis somehow pushed Ryan McGowan’s close-range shot on to the post.

With nine minutes remaining, Killie finally got the goal their pressure merited.

A well-worked set-piece routine saw Findlay nod Armstrong’s delivery back across goal – and Watkins was left with the simple task of knocking home from a yard out.

Benjamin Kimpioka tried his luck with an acrobatic attempt that crept over the crossbar, rounding off a disappointing afternoon for the home side.

Derek McInnes was proud of his Kilmarnock side for securing their place in the top six of the cinch Premiership with two games remaining before the split.

Killie finished 10th last year but are now guaranteed to be competing for a place in Europe in the closing weeks of the campaign after their 1-1 draw away to Hearts took them seven points clear of seventh-placed Hibernian.

The fourth-placed Ayrshire side claimed their point when Marley Watkins’ stunning second-half strike cancelled out Kenneth Vargas’ 10th-minute header for the Jambos.

“I’m very much a happy man, to do it with two games to spare is testament to so much good work within the club, particularly from the players, the staff, the board,” said manager McInnes.

“The club was in a poor place three years ago, we came in just over two years ago as a Championship team and managed to get out at the first attempt.

“This time last year we were still punching, fighting and scrapping to try and make sure we stayed in the league. A lot of changes in the summer and we’ve managed to deliver a top-six finish, which is terrific.”

McInnes was encouraged by the way his side came back strongly after the break at Tynecastle.

“A response was needed at half-time, we passed up a couple of really good chances in the first half,” said McInnes. “But I thought we were terrific in the second half.”

Hearts boss Steven Naismith felt his side lacked sharpness, with several players having been on international duty, but he was pleased that neither Killie nor St Mirren were able to eat into their 11-point advantage in third place.

“After the international break, another game has gone by and the teams below us haven’t gained any ground on us,” he said. “That’s a positive.

“On the back of a defeat (at Ross County last time out), the biggest thing is that you get some sort of points in the next game and we have done that.

“For me, the hardest games to deal with are the ones after the international breaks. It’s really difficult because four or five of our players didn’t get back into training until Friday.

“We started the game well, asked the question and got on the front foot, and then we get the goal at a good time. But then in those wee moments when we did break through, we just didn’t have that sharpness.

“We knew it was going to be a battle and a fight, Kilmarnock are really good at what they do. They are direct and the one time we don’t set up properly they get their goal. It’s a brilliant finish from Marley, who is having a really good season.”

Marley Watkins scored a stunning second-half equaliser as Kilmarnock guaranteed their place in the top six of the cinch Premiership with a 1-1 draw away to Hearts.

The hosts seized the initiative early on when Kenneth Vargas nodded home the opener at the end of a week in which it was confirmed that the Costa Rica forward – initially signed on loan – had agreed a five-year contract with the Tynecastle club.

However, Killie hit back for a point in an entertaining match that could have gone either way.

The result ensured the fourth-placed Ayrshire side – who remain 11 points behind third-placed Hearts – cannot be overtaken by seventh-placed Hibernian before the league splits next month.

Hearts made four changes to the team that started the 2-1 defeat at Ross County prior to the international break as Kye Rowles, Toby Sibbick, Nathaniel Atkinson and Aidan Denholm made way for Frankie Kent, Dexter Lembikisa, Jorge Grant and 18-year-old Macaulay Tait, who was handed his first start.

There was just one alteration to the Kilmarnock side that began the 5-2 home win over St Mirren as right-back Lewis Mayo replaced David Watson.

The visitors had the first notable attempt in the fifth minute when Watkins headed Matty Kennedy’s cross straight at Zander Clark.

Two minutes later the Hearts keeper had to race back to his line and tip over a speculative Liam Polworth effort from close to the half-way line.

From the resulting Killie corner, Vargas burst upfield from the edge of his own box and slipped the ball into the path of Grant, whose stinging strike from 25 yards out was pushed behind by Will Dennis.

The Jambos took the lead in the 10th minute when Vargas nodded in from a couple of yards out after Lawrence Shankland got on the end of Alex Cochrane’s delivery from the left and clipped the ball back into the danger area from the right edge of the six-yard box.

Hearts had a good chance to double their advantage two minutes later but Grant shot tamely at Dennis after being picked out by Shankland cutback.

Killie threatened an equaliser in the 27th minute when Stuart Findlay glanced a header just wide from Kennedy’s free-kick into the box.

At the other end, Shankland tested Dennis with a low strike from edge of the box on the half-hour.

Killie finished the half strongly, with Joe Wright powering a header over the bar before Watkins saw a header brilliantly clawed out by Clark.

Hearts started the second period on top and Vargas went close to a second in the 50th minute when his shot from 20 yards out was pushed behind by Dennis.

But just as the Jambos were starting to look reasonably comfortable, Killie equalised in the 67th minute as Watkins arced a stunning strike high beyond Clark and into the net from just outside the box.

Kilmarnock scored three goals in an incredible seven-minute spell to complete a breathtaking 5-2 comeback win over St Mirren at Rugby Park.

More than 2,000 away fans travelled through to Ayrshire and they were singing about playing in the Europa League at half-time as they led 2-0 courtesy of goals from Charles Dunne and Michael Mandron.

The hosts were miles off the pace in the first half but they were unrecognisable after the break as they blew the Saints away to win.

Kyle Vassell got them back into the game on the hour before Danny Armstrong and Marley Watkins completed the comeback with goals in quick succession to leave St Mirren shell-shocked.

The home support were in complete disbelief at Kilmarnock’s barnstorming turnaround and they were sent into dreamland when Vassell scored his second before David Watson added the icing on the cake with a sensational solo effort.

Both sides entered the encounter with realistic European ambitions but the home win moves fourth-placed Kilmarnock two points ahead of their opponents.

In stark contrast to the second-half madness, it was an uneventful opening to the game before Charles Dunne opened the scoring for the visitors in the 20th minute.

Kilmarnock failed to clear Greg Kiltie’s corner and the ball fell invitingly for Dunne to powerfully rifle the ball past Dennis for his first goal in six years.

The hosts struggled to respond but they almost equalised in the 35th minute when Watkins’ looping header from Armstrong’s free-kick was brilliantly tipped over by Zach Hemming.

St Mirren had a strong penalty claim denied in the 38th minute but they were not frustrated for long as they scored from the resulting corner. There was a sense of deja vu as Kiltie’s corner was not dealt with and Mandron bundled home from close range.

Derek McInnes’ message to his players during the interval clearly had an impact as Killie threatened on multiple occasions before captain Vassell scored their first on the hour, wriggling clear of two defenders in the box to prod the ball past Hemming.

Vassell’s goal galvanised Killie and they were back on level terms just four minutes later when referee Ross Hardie awarded them a penalty. Ryan Flynn clumsily barged into Watkins and Armstrong confidently converted.

Killie were rampant and Watkins scored their third goal in a crazy seven-minute spell with a deft header from Armstrong’s cross in the 68th minute.

Vassell doubled the hosts’ advantage five minutes later when he raced onto a long-ball before producing an excellent drilled finish into the bottom corner.

Watson saved the best for last as he embarked on a mazy run before slotting post Hemming in the 79th minute to complete a dream second-half for Kilmarnock.

Derek McInnes revealed that Kilmarnock will appeal against the red card shown to Lewis Mayo during their 2-2 draw at Dundee.

An early own goal by keeper Will Dennis was cancelled out by Killie’s Marley Watkins.

Luke McCowan then netted from the penalty spot for the home side after Mayo was sent off by referee Colin Steven for his challenge on Scott Tiffoney.

Robbie Deas secured a dramatic draw for Kilmarnock in stoppage time but McInnes was still raging over Mayo’s sending off.

The Rugby Park boss said: “I will appeal (against the decision). Mayo can play against Aberdeen in the cup because it is a different competition.

“He will be suspended for the St Mirren game so we will be appealing it.

“We had to dig ourselves out of a hole after a refereeing decision. I went in to see him. There is no infringement in the box, if there is a foul?

“It’s a bit untidy because Mayo has his eyes on the ball, it bounces and he gets himself in a bad position, but at no time does he pull Scott Tiffoney down.

“Tiffoney falls down and it doesn’t look great. I can’t understand why Greg Aitken and the VAR team haven’t asked the referee to look at it.

“I think if he does, he doesn’t give the penalty and I think it actually makes him think twice as to whether there is a foul there or not.

“If he does get called over and sticks by his decision then we can have a go at the referee. I don’t understand.

“They get involved when they shouldn’t and don’t get involved where they should. I am just scunnered with it.”

Dundee boss Tony Docherty was delighted with the response of his players after their hammering by Celtic last week but he insisted his team should have seen the Killie game out.

He said: “I think the overriding feeling is disappointment.

“We have just had a good discussion as a group. I think the thing I want to emphasise is that we had a difficult night on Wednesday.

“But we won’t be defined by a result like that but what we will be defined by is our reaction to it.

“I thought our reaction today was fantastic but we should have seen the game out.”

Kilmarnock salvaged a last-gasp 2-2 draw against Dundee at Dens in the cinch Premiership.

The hosts took the lead courtesy of an own goal by keeper Will Dennis with the visitors equalising before the break through Marley Watkins.

Kilmarnock’s Lewis Mayo was sent off after conceding a penalty on the hour mark, with Luke McCowan converting the spot-kick, but the Ayrshire men rescued a point deep into added time with Robbie Deas bundling home.

It is the third time the teams have drawn 2-2 against each other in the league this season, with the result seeing Dundee drop out of the top six.

The Dark Blues made six changes from the side that were thrashed 7-1 by Celtic in midweek with keeper Jon McCracken, Aaron Donnelly, Lyall Cameron, Josh Mulligan, Mo Sylla and Scott Tiffoney coming in for Trevor Carson, Ricki Lamie, Jordan McGhee, Finlay Robertson, Malachi Boateng and Amadou Bakayoko.

Killie made just one change from the team that lost narrowly to Rangers on Wednesday night with Deas replacing Stuart Findlay.

Dundee made all the early running and it was no surprise when they took the lead in the 11th minute. Tiffoney cut in from the left and hit a snap shot that cannoned off the post but hit the luckless Dennis and bounced back into the net.

However, Killie stunned the home side when they equalised in the 35th minute. Danny Armstrong swung a cross in from the right with Joe Wright heading the ball down to Watkins who netted from close range for his 10th goal of the season.

After the break, Watkins embarked on a barnstorming solo run from halfway into the Dundee box before hitting a shot with McCracken having to make a vital block to deny the striker.

However, Dundee took the lead again in the 63rd minute. McCowan was bundled over just inside the Killie box by Mayo with referee Colin Steven awarding a penalty and then flashing a red card at the defender.

The official’s decision was rubber-stamped after a VAR check with McCowan stepping up to take the spot-kick, hitting it into the back of the net off the inside of the post.

Dundee came agonisingly close to making it three in the 85th minute but substitute Michael Mellon’s 25-yard shot crashed off the crossbar.

However, Killie rescued a point in the 91st minute when Deas reacted first at a corner to bundle home.

Derek McInnes urged his players to savour their late 1-0 victory over Livingston after suffering for the majority of a difficult encounter.

Marley Watkins struck a crucial winner with two minutes left after Premiership strugglers Livi had frustrated their hosts for much the evening.

A lack of composure in front of goal was to prove costly for David Martindale’s side as they were punished late on, allowing Kilmarnock to claim their first win of 2024 and strengthen their grip on fourth place in the table.

“We’re not going to be in a rush to watch the game back again, but a late winner is always so welcome – sometimes they are the best ones,” said McInnes.

“I told the players to enjoy it because it wasn’t enjoyable – but enjoy winning the game.

“We struggled for any fluency, we gave the ball away, chose the wrong option and lacked confidence – which was strange as we’d only lost one in 10.

“We’ll take that but we need to learn from it, as the season goes on there will be a little bit more pressure on each game.”

McInnes was especially pleased at the impact of his substitutes, who all played a vital role in turning the game in Killie’s favour.

The home side were much improved after half-time when the Rugby Park boss turned to his bench.

The changes paid dividends as Matty Kennedy picked out fellow sub Kevin van Veen to nod the ball into Watkins’ path for the winner.

“Half-time came at the right time and the subs that we made definitely helped us,” he added.

“We knew a point wasn’t really going to help us too much for what we’re trying to do. We tried to chase the game a bit.

“Van Veen’s quality showed, even just a few touches, none more so than the goal — it’s a brilliant win for us and I couldn’t be more pleased.”

Livi boss Martindale was disappointed as his side were let down by a lack of composure in front of goal.

The Lions are now 17 Premiership games without a win and sit six points adrift at the foot of the table.

“I thought defensively we were very, very good in the shape – we defended very well,” he said.

“I felt we had the better chances in the game, I felt tonight was probably more on the offensive players at the club if I’m being brutally honest.

“I don’t believe performances alone are enough to make it turn but there are very few performances that I’ve came in worried.

“I’m frustrated for the players more so than me because I can feel the anxiety and frustration in the changing room.”

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes praised his players’ battling qualities after a Marley Watkins goal sealed a 1-0 cinch Premiership win at St Mirren.

The Ayrshire side moved four points clear of their vanquished opponents after keeping a clean sheet for a fourth-successive away game.

And McInnes said: “We wanted ball carriers and thankfully we had a brilliant passage of play for the goal. We had a few boys on empty at the end with the heavy pitch. It probably took a lot out of us.

“We’ve got 30 points and four clean sheets in a row on the road when our away form was so bad last season. I think there’s a confidence and trust now to come to different places.

“The four clean sheets in a row is the first time we’ve done that in a long time. The fans helped us, it felt like a proper cup tie even though it was a league game.”

Killie’s large travelling support sang about their team qualifying for Europe next season but McInnes was setting his sights on making sure of a top-six place first.

He added: “I think it’s great for the fans to think about that but for us, we’ve got a target for ourselves at junctions which will hopefully let us fight for the top six.

“I want us to play like a top-six side, carry ourselves and behave like a top-six team. And if we can hang about there as long as possible, then who knows. I want us to keep our shoulder to the wheel and keep churning out wins.”

St Mirren boss Stephen Robinson was disappointed as his team’s recent struggles continued and admitted they need a change of luck quickly to try to turn things around.

He said: “Everything is going against us at this moment in time. When you’re not scoring or you make an error, we get punished.

“We’ve not become a bad team but sometimes when luck isn’t with you it goes against you. I don’t think the belief has gone because you don’t dominate the ball like we did.

“I’ve not lost belief in the boys. We just need someone to step up to score and our movement can be better in the box. It’s up to me to sort that out.

“We’re getting good performances within the team. I take the blame as I signed the players but we’re just not having the rub of the green. The harder you work, the luckier you get.”

Kilmarnock strengthened their grip on fourth place in the cinch Premiership as Marley Watkins’ goal sealed a 1-0 win away to St Mirren.

The first-half strike helped extend Derek McInnes’ side’s recent good run of form to four wins and a draw from their last five games.

In contrast, St Mirren are in the midst of a slump that has seen them win just once in seven games, Stephen Robinson’s men a shadow of the side that started the season in sparkling form.

Robinson made two changes from Saints’ weekend defeat to Hearts. In came James Bolton and Toyosi Olusunya, replacing Thierry Small and Alex Greive.

For Kilmarnock there was just once change following their win over St Johnstone, with Matty Kennedy replacing Liam Polworth.

The hosts had the first real chance of the game as Richard Taylor fizzed in a long-range effort that Will Dennis did well to hold onto.

St Mirren had the ball in the net after 14 minutes when Jonah Ayunga bundled it in after Dennis had saved Olusunya’s effort only for it to be chalked out for offside.

Killie took a while to get going and from one promising attack, Danny Armstrong swept his shot well off target.

It was the visitors, though, who went in front after 25 minutes. Kennedy played in Watkins and he finished well past Zach Hemming.

The home side responded with a low driven effort from Ayunga but it lacked the pace to trouble Dennis.

Kilmarnock were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position when Taylor brought down Armstrong and was booked. But Kennedy’s effort struck the defensive wall and trickled out for a corner.

At the other end, Dennis did well to repel Scott Tanser’s volley from just outside the box as St Mirren tried to get back into the contest.

After all the heavy rain earlier in the day, the surface was unsurprisingly slippery and Alex Gogic picked up a booking after losing his footing and inadvertently brought down Brad Lyons.

Greg Kiltie had the first chance of note in the second half but his looped effort was easily gathered by Dennis.

Robinson turned to his bench to try to gain some fresh impetus, sending on Mika Mandron and Conor McMenamin.

The Northern Ireland international nearly made an instant impact but his flashing effort flew across the face of goal with no takers in the middle.

Dennis then pulled off a brilliant save to tip Bolton’s header over the crossbar as St Mirren belatedly began to exert some pressure.

That was matched at the other end by a stunning Zach Hemming save to push away Rory McKenzie’s goal-bound volley as Killie racked up a precious away win.

Kilmarnock have announced the signing of former Aberdeen forward Marley Watkins on a one-year contract.

The 32-year-old Wales international previously played under Killie manager Derek McInnes at Pittodrie.

The former Inverness, Barnsley, Norwich and Bristol City player netted six goals in 65 appearances for the Dons during two spells and left at the end of last season.

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