There was Christmas cheer in Ayrshire as Killie moved up to fourth in the table with a 2-1 win over St Johnstone that became more nervy than it needed to be.
First-half goals from David Watson and Marley Watkins had given the hosts a firm grip of this game before St Johnstone substitute Nicky Clark pulled them back into just after the hour mark. It made for a anxious finale as Kilmarnock, who had ample chances to put the game to bed, found themselves under late pressure from Craig Levein’s side.
To add to their sense of agitation, Killie also felt that Saints stopper Dimitar Mitov could have seen red after hauling down striker Kyle Vassell just outside the box. With Watkins waiting in the box they felt there had been a clear impediment to a goal-scoring opportunity although referee John Beaton disagreed with the sanction a simple booking.
There had been an early portent for St Johnstone when Brad Lyons diving header inched over bar but it was a warning they failed to take.
The game was still in its infancy when 18-year-old David Watson turned Killie’s pressure into a tangible lead. The teenager’s half volley from the edge of the box was too much for Dimitar Mitov to cope with.
He could and should have had a quick second. It was Corrie Ndaba who was the supplier with a floated ball into the box that picked out the unmarked Watson but his header was wildly off target.
It did not stem the flood, though, as Kilmarnock kept at it – and got their reward. Marley Watkins and Danny Armstrong exchanged a one-two which ended up with Watkins beating Liam Gordon to the ball before prodding the ball past Mitov from close range.
As Kilmarnock sustained their pressure, Vassell might have added another when he knocked an effort over the bar from the six-yard box from Brad Lyons with Mitov stranded.
The second period continued in the same vein with Mdaba dragging an effort low across the face of goal that no-one could get themselves on the end of.
Levein switched things about with Clark introduced for Dan Phillips with the striker making an impact almost immediately. Matt Smith whipped in a free-kick from the left with Clark getting on the end of it.
There was controversy at the other end as Mitov took out Vassell just outside the box. The keeper’s initial heavy touch had enabled the striker to nick in and rob him of the ball and, with Watkins waiting in the box, Mitov upended the striker. Beaton incurred the wrath of a furious home support with a yellow card instead of a red. To add to their sense of grievance, Mitov then produced a fine one-handed save to deny Liam Polworth from the resultant free-kick.
St Johnstone could have incensed them further with a leveller when Fran Franczak collected on the right flank from Matt Smith. His delivery was perfect as he picked out Tony Gallacher but the wing-back somehow contrived to flash his effort over the bar.
Will Dennis was forced into a decent save from Smith who unleashed a fierce volley inside the box as the nerves started to jangle in the Killie dug-out.
Vassell had an effort blocked on the line as Kilmarnock tried to ease their nerves.
They held on to take the points – ten now from their last 12 games – while for St Johnstone it is back-to-back defeats.