They did it with swagger. They did it with grit. They did it with room to spare.
But all that matters is: they did it.
Dundee are back in the Premiership.
The dismal relegation of 2018/19 and — at times — maddening two campaigns in the Championship can be consigned to the haze of history after Kilmarnock were emphatically put to the sword.
Danny Mullen scored the opener and was an effervescent, irritating, clinical force of nature in attack. Lee Ashcroft, arch marksman from the back, doubled the advantage and was indomitable in defence.
But there were standouts in Dark Blue all over the pitch as they became just the third team to win promotion to the Premiership through the playoffs, following in the footsteps of Hamilton and Livingston.
Paul McMullan tortured Brandon Haunstrup until the left-back was replaced; Charlie Adam is a born leader as well as astonishing technician; Jordan McGhee is perhaps the unsung hero of their campaign and a dynamo in the heart of the pitch; Paul McGowan is a set-piece wizard.
This 4-2 aggregate triumph — which should have been even more handsome on the balance of the two games — served as a statement of intent. Not only are Dundee going up, but they are determined to hold their own when they arrive.
And, for all Dee fans like to say ‘we never make it easy for ourselves’, this really was.
Flying out of the blocks
The stakes were sky high but only one team played like they were feeling the pressure.
Kilmarnock were hesitant and nervous from the outset and it took just seven minutes for their ropey defence to be ripped open by the confident, all-action Dark Blues.
Paul McMullan, irrepressible since arriving on loan from city rivals United, showed superb dig and determination to collect a long clearance before surging forward and brilliantly teeing up Mullen to clinically break the deadlock.
— SPFL (@spfl) May 24, 2021
Dundee swiftly doubled their advantage in familiar fashion. Paul McGowan whipped in a pin-point corner and Ashcroft — criminally unmarked — headed home from close-range.
Kirk Broadfoot and Zeno Ibsen Rossi appeared to get in each others’ way, adding a real sense of Keystone Cops to the affair as Killie endured an ignominious exit from top-flight football.
— SPFL (@spfl) May 24, 2021
A mix-up between goalkeeper Colin Doyle and Haunstrup which resulted in the concession of a cheap throw-in brought the first grumbles from the lucky 500. Even after more than a year without football, this was proving tough to enjoy.
Dundee looked like scoring every time they ventured forward; Tommy Wright was pulling his hair out on the touchline.
When Killie did reach the final third in a threatening manner, the Dee defended like their collective lives depended on it — one magnificent block of a Kyle Lafferty shot on the half-hour mark underlining that perfectly.
A McGhee effort from 35 yards summed up the confidence coursing through the veins of the visitors, albeit it drifted safely over Doyle’s cross-bar.
St Johnstone legend Wright had seen enough after 33 minutes; beleaguered left-back Haunstrup was hooked and towering marksman Danny Whitehall thrown on to join Lafferty in attack. All or nothing.
Rather than spark a revival, Dundee almost added a third. McMullan had already seen off Haunstrup and showed no signs of slowing down as he hit the byline before finding McGhee — but the midfielder’s glancing header struck the bar.
The Ayrshire outfit saw their best opportunity come and go on the cusp of half-time when Chris Burke failed to convert a sumptuous delivery from Mitch Pinnock. A let-off and a timely warning that the tie could change at the drop of a hat.
McPake’s men heeded that signal and continued to push forward after the break.
The talismanic Adam had a pop at goal which sailed narrowly over the bar before McGhee scampered down the right flank and found McGowan with a deep cross which he could only head wide.
Killie were largely resorting to an aerial bombardment and Liam Fontaine and Ashcroft were more than happy to rise to that challenge; leaping higher, fighting harder and heading further than their opponents.
It would not be Dundee without a few late nerves; a few nibbled fingernails.
Goalkeeper Adam Legzdins made sure of that when he dashed from his line to flatten on the onrushing Rory McKenzie. Referee Bobby Madden pointed to the spot and Lafferty lashed home the spot-kick.
However, Dundee regrouped, dug deep and held firm, with a couple of hopeful headers from Whitehall the sum total of Killie’s late chances.
Kilmarnock — who finished third in the Premiership when the Dee were relegated in 2019 — must now come to terms with their 28-year stay in the top-flight ending, while their vanquishers can crack open the bubbly.