After two years in the Championship wilderness, Dundee are a Premiership club once more.
The Old Firm derby. The Edinburgh derby. The Dundee derby.
The top-flight set is complete for season 2021/22 – all thanks to two Premiership performances from James McPake’s Dark Blues against Kilmarnock.
With those they took the Rugby Park side’s place at the top table.
There’s no doubt they deserved their 4-2 aggregate victory – and the pair of 2-1 victories to boot.
Sharper in attack and harder at the back, Dundee were a cut above Kilmarnock.
So how did they do it?
One was a Premiership defence, one a Championship backline. There’s no way an onlooker with no knowledge of Scottish football would have said the ones in stripes were the top-flight defenders.
Kilmarnock’s defence was very quickly made to look shambolic by a Dundee frontline full of confidence.
You most certainly couldn’t say the same for the second tier rearguard.
The Dark Blues were picking space whenever they had the ball, leaving their hosts chasing shadows at times.
In the first leg, Dundee scored after six minutes. In the second they wasted a whole extra minute in not making it 1-0 until seven minutes had passed.
It was their first real attack but it showed how brittle Killie were going towards their own goal.
Danny Mullen battled for the ball on halfway and it dropped for Paul McMullan. With Jordan McGhee one side and Mullen the other, the winger chose correctly and Mullen made no mistake.
Five minutes later and it was 2-0 – former Killie defender Lee Ashcroft showing just what his old club are missing with yet another huge goal.
With every attack, Dundee looked like they might score.
At the other end, the backline was marshalled by Ashcroft and the experience of Liam Fontaine.
When things got hairy, bodies were thrown on the line.
The one time in the first half Kyle Lafferty got a sniff in the box, Fontaine was out with the big block and Cammy Kerr followed up with a header knowing pain was coming.
The first leg may have been won in midfield, the second was most certainly all about the backlines.
The frontman timed his best performances of the season for the biggest matches of the season.
In the first leg he was a tireless pest for Kilmarnock. This time around he got his just reward for all that work with a fine opening goal.
With time to think about it, Mullen showed calm to pick his spot and find the bottom corner.
In truth, he never looked like missing.
That goal brought him level with Osman Sow and Jason Cummings as top scorer this season with eight goals apiece.
— SPFL (@spfl) May 24, 2021
He may not have got on the scoresheet this time around but McGhee as a box-to-box midfielder has proved Dundee’s lucky charm.
Not that any of his performances have been down to luck in any way.
However, the result at Rugby Park extended the remarkable unbeaten run the Dark Blues have enjoyed with the 24-year-old in the middle of the park.
It now runs to 12 matches and counting – counting into the Premiership next season.
Kilmarnock’s undoubted dangerman. A proven goalscorer, not just in Scottish football, but at international level as well.
Keep the ball away from him was the plan. And it was a plan Dundee pulled off for the second match running. Just about.
Yes, he got on the scoresheet with a 69th-minute penalty but without a gift of a chance from 12 yards, the Northern Irishman was largely anonymous.
Ashcroft was towering in the air whenever a high ball was played up to the frontman.
And the excellent Shaun Byrne was the man in the way when they tried to go to feet.
Kilmarnock had their dangerman but Dundee had a team effort working together to prevent any telling Lafferty involvement.
The first match of the season, Dundee were hammered 6-2 at Tynecastle by Hearts.
They were so far off the pace then that this day, with them now a Premiership club, looked years and years away.
However, huge credit must go to everyone at Dens Park for the way they have transformed this season.
The difference between that Hearts performance and these two displays is nothing short of remarkable.
— SPFL (@spfl) May 24, 2021
For a whole lot of the campaign, things weren’t going right for the Dark Blues.
Except when it really mattered.
Dundee brought their season together, found their way and will be playing Premiership football next season once more.
And it’s no less than they deserve.