Kilmarnock boosted their Scottish Premiership survival hopes with a “much-needed” victory against Livingston as their inspired home form continued.
Kyle Vassell fired Derek McInnes’ side in front three minutes after the break, before Danny Armstrong’s penalty assured them a crucial win at Rugby Park.
With three games left Kilmarnock are up to 10th place, outside the relegation play-off, one point clear of Ross County and three in front of bottom side Dundee United.
County have to visit Ayrshire before the end of the season, setting up a thrilling finale to the Premiership campaign.
Livingston stay eighth and have very little to play for, but a seventh away defeat in a row without scoring equals a miserable record set by United 23 years ago.
“In the context of the season, three points was much-needed,” McInnes told BBC Scotland.
“We spoke confidently during the week about the importance of our home form and we saw that today, particularly second half.
“First half we were a bit nervy, agitated and understandably a bit anxious. The composure came once we got in front and it’s important we show both sides to our game in the remaining games.”
Pre-match McInnes urged his team to take advantage of their excellent record at Rugby Park, where only Celtic, Rangers, and Livingston had won in the league this season.
But a nervy and untidy first half suggested his team were struggling to cope with the pressure, and Vassell passed up the best chance when clean through after Christian Doidge’s excellent flick.
However, persistence paid off soon after the restart as another Doidge flick put Vassell in behind and this time his low shot found the far corner, albeit with the help of some weak goalkeeping from Shamal George.
From there, Kilmarnock found the confidence they needed to kick on. And after a series of shots were blocked, Doidge’s effort struck Jason Holt’s outstretched arm.
Referee David Munro initially awarded a corner, but after video assistant referee Willie Collum sent him to the monitor to have another look, Munro pointed to the spot.
Armstrong, Kilmarnock’s talisman all season, stepped up and calmly tucked the ball away from the despairing George to bolster their lead and ultimately wrap up a critical three points.
Livingston stuck at it, but lacked quality in the final third and looked every inch a team who have very little to play for after missing out on the top six.
Player of the match – Kyle Vassell
Fortress Rugby Park bolsters survival bid – analysis
This was quite simply a huge three points for Kilmarnock. If they do stay up, it will be almost entirely down to their superb home form.
They’ve now taken 85% of their points at Rugby Park, and have home games against relegation rivals County and St Johnstone to come, which could make all the difference.
The front two Vassell and Doidge have been criticised a lot this season for a lack of goals, but they were outstanding in this match.
Doidge won 11 duels, six of them in the air as he provided the perfect foil for the returning Vassell, and the pair combined beautifully for the crucial opener.
Both of them, plus Armstrong and young David Watson will all play a crucial role in keeping them in the division.
Livingston’s form has deserted them since the turn of the year. It’s now just two wins in 11 league games. At one point they were in the race for Europe, but have the worst defensive record in the league in 2023.
That means they’re relying on quality up the other end, but apart from flashes from Joel Nouble and the odd set piece, they did not offer much yet again.
David Martindale’s side could yet break that unwanted away record with one away trip to come before the end of the campaign. That would have been unthinkable at the turn of the year.
What they said
Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes: “We needed to play down the sides of them more and take care of the pass forward. We spoke about that at half-time and the goal was an example of that.
“We’re against teams where there’s not a lot between us. It’s going to be fine lines and it’s important we’re as good as we can be.”
Livingston manager David Martindale: “The goals we’re giving away just now, especially away from home, are terrible. Collectively, we’ve got to do better.
“It’s another penalty with a player going into the box and lifting his hands. I don’t know how many times we’ve spoken about it as a group. You don’t get away with that with VAR.”
Kilmarnock have another home game to look forward to as St Johnstone visit next Saturday (15:00 BST), while Livingston host Dundee United at the same time.
- 19WrightBooked at 11mins
- 3DorsettSubstituted forSandersat 82′minutes
- 11ArmstrongSubstituted forJonesat 82′minutes
- 26DoidgeSubstituted forLyonsat 90′minutes
- 23VassellSubstituted forWalesat 88′minutes
- 2DevlinSubstituted forPenriceat 82′minutes
- 23De LucasBooked at 89mins
- 11MontañoSubstituted forParkesat 82′minutes
- 24KellyBooked at 49mins
- 18HoltBooked at 64minsSubstituted forAndersonat 65′minutes
- 17KellySubstituted forBradleyat 77′minutes
- David Munro
Match ends, Kilmarnock 2, Livingston 0.
Second Half ends, Kilmarnock 2, Livingston 0.
Foul by Bruce Anderson (Livingston).
Sam Walker (Kilmarnock) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Kilmarnock. Conceded by Luiyi De Lucas.
Attempt blocked. Luke Chambers (Kilmarnock) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Rory McKenzie.
Substitution, Kilmarnock. Brad Lyons replaces Christian Doidge.
Luiyi De Lucas (Livingston) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Luiyi De Lucas (Livingston).
Christian Doidge (Kilmarnock) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Kilmarnock. Bobby Wales replaces Kyle Vassell.
Attempt blocked. James Penrice (Livingston) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jack Fitzwater.
James Penrice (Livingston) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock).
Foul by Sean Kelly (Livingston).
David Watson (Kilmarnock) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Luiyi De Lucas (Livingston) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Steven Bradley with a cross.
Corner, Livingston. Conceded by Jack Sanders.
Foul by Joel Nouble (Livingston).
Jack Sanders (Kilmarnock) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Player of the match
Squad number24Player nameChambers
Squad number29Player nameWales
Squad number11Player nameArmstrong
Squad number10Player nameJones
Squad number14Player nameSanders
Squad number19Player nameWright
Squad number3Player nameDorsett
Squad number23Player nameVassell
Squad number2Player nameMayo
Squad number20Player nameWalker
Squad number34Player nameWatson
Squad number7Player nameMcKenzie
Squad number26Player nameDoidge
Squad number17Player nameLyons
Squad number22Player nameDonnelly
Squad number29Player namePenrice
Squad number16Player nameBradley
Squad number19Player nameNouble
Squad number22Player nameShinnie
Squad number17Player nameKelly
Squad number9Player nameAnderson
Squad number18Player nameHolt
Squad number1Player nameGeorge
Squad number2Player nameDevlin
Squad number5Player nameFitzwater
Squad number24Player nameKelly
Squad number23Player nameDe Lucas
Squad number11Player nameCristian Montaño
Squad number8Player namePittman
Squad number4Player nameParkes