IT was not just Nadir Ciftci who would leave John Rankin in an awkward position inside Tannadice.

The midfielder's goal on Saturday incited his Dundee United team-mate to enact a crude celebration which involved lofting Rankin into the air and leaving him to fall on his backside. He would later be dropped from the narrative too, when Jackie McNamara elected somehow to extol United youngster Ryan Dow for the sure finish which decided his side's match with Kilmarnock.

Having just sidled in next to his manager for the post-match press conference, Rankin would move to a position of mock indignation. It was probably more comfortable than being the butt of the joke, although McNamara has not been alone in struggling of late to recognise members of this United team. A win at the weekend means that his side now find themselves in fourth place in the SPFL Premiership, the inference being that they had first become lost. There was at least a sense that United were unsure of their bearings during a sequence of seven league matches without a win; stumbling among four defeats as the prospect of qualifying for European competition this season edged further away.

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That was an aspiration which they once held in full view and which United will now go looking for again. Six straight victories before the turn of the year had been achieved comfortably, with the greatest challenge for them having been adding up the scores - the Tannadice side stockpiled 22 goals in that run, with just five scored in reply.

Those are statistics which outlined the best of United. The colour was provided by their youngest players; a battery of callow attackers who pummelled teams with flair and sharp movement. It was a team which had teased Kilmarnock ceaselessly, scoring nine times over two meetings late last year.

The Rugby Park side lost the latest match between the clubs on Saturday too, but not their conviction that they deserved more from an afternoon in which they briefly led 2-1 after a goal from Kris Boyd.

The attention fell instead on moments when their defending was far from clever, rather than smart attacking moves from United. The home side still found the net with some conviction and Ciftci remains a menace, but both Stuart Armstrong and Ryan Gauld were replaced during the second half; the latter having returned from a break in Spain but still to arrive back at his most coruscating form.

There are questions of United, then, which are informed by their earlier prowess. The same side will endeavour to provide answers in the coming weeks.

"A few times [recently] we've got a goal and then maybe been pegged back and let our heads drop," said Gary Mackay-Steven, the Dundee United winger who scored his side's first goal. "When that happened we would go on to draw or maybe lose the game, but hopefully we turned the corner here.

"Earlier on when we were scoring a lot of goals, we kept the pressure on all the time. We are sitting back now and letting teams come on to us."

Alexei Eremenko would perhaps argue that he did not wait for an invitation at the weekend. The forward made his first start since returning to Kilmarnock and was afforded his first 90 minutes of play since November. It was long enough to become reacquainted with the Finland internationalist - Eremenko spent time on loan from Metalist Kharkiv in 2010/11 - a player who looks as though he would be comfortably first pick at five-a-side, and is now an unconventional necessity in Kilmarnock's first XI.

A goal from outside the box was scored with the air of a player who could find no reason to move closer to his target, while an earlier backheel flick to release Rory McKenzie was conceived by a mind which moves much more quickly than his physique currently allows. "There's a lot more to come from him," said McKenzie. "There have been balls he's played in training which have been different class and we need somebody to create chances for Kris Boyd and, hopefully, me as well."