Dundee United ensured they suffered no Europa League hangover by battling back to earn a draw in their SPL opener against Kilmarnock.
Peter Houston’s side, who had their European dream ended by Slask Wroclaw on Thursday night, had to show character to secure a point at Tannadice on Sunday.
The Tangerines went behind just one minute into the second half courtesy of 18-year-old Rory McKeown. However, United earned a share of the spoils thanks to a superb strike by supersub Danny Swanson.
The home side even had to play the last quarter with 10 men after their third substitute, Gary Mackay-Steven, hobbled off with an ankle injury.
Houston was full of praise for his players after their second big match in just three days.
“I thought it was an entertaining game,” he said. “We have conceded another wonder goal which is becoming a habit.
“It was a great strike, but we fought back and scored with another outstanding shot from Danny. We have just had two massive games in three days and we have had to finish this one with only 10 men yet we were still going for the win and creating chances and I cannot praise the players enough.”
Swanson admitted the counter was a massive relief after a summer of frustration and depression because of recurring hamstring injuries.
“It is just good to be back playing and to get a goal is a brilliant bonus,” he said. “It has been a really horrible time for me recently with both my hamstrings going.
“I was just depressed, so I am really happy to be back.
“I was on holiday during the summer with Scott Severin and his wife and my girlfriend and I must have been a real bore to be around, but my hamstrings were so painful, I couldn’t even bend down.”
Houston made two changes to his starting line-up from Thursday with Barry Douglas and Stuart Armstrong coming in for Severin and virus-hit Garry Kenneth with both dropping to the bench.
Skipper Jon Daly moved back to centre-half in place of Kenneth and lined up alongside fellow Irishman Sean Dillon at the heart of the defence.
Killie boss Kenny Shiels’ new-look side contained former Dundee skipper Gary Harkins, who was snapped up earlier this summer.
After a tentative opening, United were the first to create a clear-cut opportunity in the 10th minute.
John Rankin drove in from the left and pulled the ball back, with David Goodwillie and Armstrong both having efforts on goal blocked.
Killie’s response came through James Dayton who embarked on a blistering run down the right holding off Willo Flood as he burst into the United box before clipping a shot narrowly wide of Dusan Pernis’s far post from a tight angle.
Shortly after, Goodwillie came agonisingly close to breaking the early stalemate when he shot just past Cammy Bell’s far post from six yards after a Paul Dixon cross.
On the half hour, Harkins struck a long-range shot that Pernis comfortably held.
The former Dark Blue then had two bites at opening the scoring from a corner in the 35th minute first through a header that was saved by Pernis and then a shot that was blocked on the United line by Harkins’ team-mate Manuel Pascali.
Houston made a change at the break with Kenneth coming on for Armstrong and Daly moving up front.
However, there was nothing the defender could do to stop Killie’s sensational opener which was almost a carbon-copy of the goal that knocked United out of Europe on Thursday with McKeown hitting a thunderous drive from all of 30 yards, which flew into the roof of Pernis’s net.
United looked to respond, but found it difficult to mount any sustained pressure although Daly had a goal-bound header blocked by Patrick Ada in the 63rd minute.
Ada was then responsible for the infringement that resulted in United’s cracking equaliser after he fouled Daly 25 yards out in the 70th minute.
Swanson hit the initial free-kick into the wall, but as the ball broke to him again, he rifled a deadly shot just inside Bell’s left-hand post.
As the match edged to its conclusion, there were further half-chances for Dayton and Daly and the United skipper created an opportunity for Goodwillie in extra time.
The striker raced through on to Daly’s pass, but Cammy Bell timed his challenge well to dive at Goodwillie’s feet to snuff out the danger.