Kilmarnock saw their hopes of a place in the top six of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League blown apart as Dundee came up with the victory that spares them relegation from the top flight for at least another week.
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Former Rugby Park playmaker Gary Harkins returned to Ayrshire for the first time since his move to Dens Park but made himself most unwelcome with a goal in either half.
Kris Boyd had levelled just four minutes before Harkins' decisive second to extend his record-breaking tally of SPL goals to 166, but just as they looked set to sneak through on goal difference, Rory Boulding's last-gasp winner for Dundee United against Aberdeen saw the Tannadice men snatch Killie's place in the top half of the table.
Dundee, meanwhile, knew anything short of three points would see their return to the SPL curtailed after just one season but their determined effort means they now head into the post-split fixtures with faint hopes of survival.
Killie boss Kenny Shiels had called for a bumper crowd to turn out and cheer his side on, but with less than 5,000 in attendance, the home side failed to lift themselves for the kind of battle Dundee were set on.
With so much at stake for both sides a hell-for-leather start was expected, and so it proved as Boyd tested Dundee keeper Steve Simonsen with his first effort after barely three minutes.
The Englishman was unruffled, though, as he saved the former Scotland striker's header from Garry Hay's corner.
But the Dens side were more ruthless with their first attack of the afternoon when Harkins struck three minutes later.
Jim McAlister tried to pick out the former Killie man but the playmaker was clever with a dummy, leaving it instead for John Baird. Harkins continued his run and was onside as he collected Baird's pass through the legs of Momo Sissoko before slotting past old team-mate Cammy Bell.
He should have had a second after 11 minutes but put his free header from Brian Easton's cross was rushed and sailed a good five yards over Bell's bar.
Boyd's miss from a sublime Borja Perez ball over Dundee's defence was just as bad as he dragged his right-foot shot three feet wide.
In spite of their early setback Killie settled down to play some decent stuff, yet the visitors remained dangerous.
They nearly added a second on 20 minutes as Kevin McBride's free-kick was redirected towards the corner by Baird but Bell was down in time to save.
Referees are rarely popular but Iain Brines did nothing to aid his reputation with the Ayrshire public when, with John Brown calling almost his entire team over to the touchline to receive instructions while Bell was down receiving treatment, Kilmarnock took a quick free-kick only to be pulled back for Dundee to regroup.
It was overly officious but the groan that followed from the crowd was soon matched by their audible frustrations as the home side failed to cut through their stubborn opponents before heading in at the break.
Things barely improved in the first 15 minutes of the second period, so Shiels sent for young midfielder Chris Johnston and French striker William Gros as he removed Paul Heffernan and Jeroen Tesselaar. Yet far too many passes still went astray and 50-50 tackles were lost to their much hungrier visitors.
It was with an air of desperation then that Killie appealed for a penalty with 20 minutes left when Boyd and Kyle Benedictus leapt together for a high ball into the box, but Brines turned down their appeal.
Dundee threw on Andy Barrowman for his debut following his redundancy exit from administration-hit Dunfermline last week as he replaced Baird with 18 minutes still to play, but before he had even enjoyed his first touch Killie were finally level.
Gros picked up the ball on the right and threw over a cross which Dark Blues centre-half Matt Lockwood failed to read. The ball cleared his curly locks late but Boyd's control was immaculate as he set himself with his thigh before rolling a firm shot past Simonsen.
However Harkins, with something to prove to Shiels following the frustrating Rugby Park spell that preceded his return to Tayside, would have his say for a second time on 78 minutes as he hammered home Lewis Toshney's cross from the right on the half-volley.
Home substitute Rabiu Ibrahim had a diving header from Hay's cross saved by Simonsen late on but it was no't enough to prevent defeat, leaving the dejected Killie players to trudge into the Rugby Park dressing rooms and learn of United's late clincher.