A superb Kyle Lafferty hat-trick boosted Kilmarnock’s Scottish Premiership survival chances with a 3-0 victory over Dundee United.
The Northern Irish international’s header, side-foot shot and penalty kick inside 11 first half minutes lifts Killie out the relegation zone and puts breathing space between them and Hamilton. A five-point gap has been made on the Premiership’s bottom side while Ross County lurk two points behind in the relegation play-off spot.
The first quarter was a fairly stop-start affair with a lack of quality evident at both ends. But in-form striker Lafferty was soon to make his mark, heading home the game’s opener from a pinpoint ball into the back-post from Ross Millen on 32 minutes.
He would have a hat-trick completed inside 11 minutes. After sensational play from Kilmarnock, Chris Burke and Millen linked up to provide the Northern Ireland international his second of the evening through a cool side-footed finish.
Lafferty had his hat-trick on 43 minutes from the penalty spot after Burke was fouled by Jeando Fuchs just inside the box. It was an outstanding end to the half that all but guaranteed a huge Kilmarnock win.
Micky Mellon’s side did show some fight to get themselves back into the game but chances were at a premium. Killie had them penned into their own half, goalkeeper Deniz Mehmet requiring treatment for United but 42-year-old Neil Alexander wasn’t required to provide cover.
Kilmarnock keeper Colin Doyle saved well from a Luke Bolton effort at his near-post with 20 minutes remaining. Then Ian Harkes fired over after an Adrian Sporle lay-off before Rory McKenzie hit the target at the other end.
Lafferty was the difference and his three goals have put Kilmarnock in control of their own top-flight destiny as Dundee United look towards the Scottish Cup. Here are three things we learned.
A new deal needed
What a signing Lafferty has been. His goals have been crucial in Killie’s form since January, already in double figures for the season after his second hat-trick. He is the difference-maker in the bottom three and the Rugby Park club will be desperate to keep him beyond his contract expiry in the summer.
This victory for Kilmarnock leaves then five points clear of the Accies at the foot of the table. With three games remaining, Hamilton face an uphill battle to finish 10th and avoid either an automatic drop to the Championship or a play-off match which would determine their fate.
United looking towards weekend
Dundee United made seven changes from Friday’s 1-0 Scottish Cup fourth round victory against Forfar Athletic with the likes of Lawrence Shankland sitting on the bench. United have already secured their league safety and one eye was firmly on achieving a place at Hampden in the quarter-final v Aberdeen.
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