They could not wholly subdue a Queen of the South side that still found the means to impress despite being reduced to 10 men after only 90 seconds.
The home side must have anticipated a difficult afternoon. It was Queens, after all, who knocked Rangers out of the Ramsdens Cup at Ibrox earlier in the season, and who came into this game clear at the top of the Irn-Bru Second Division. The mood at Rugby Park ought to have been one of trepidation, but instead the visitors encountered the game's early trauma.
When Queens midfielder Stephen McKenna caught Bojan Perez with what looked like a high tackle, a crowd of players immediately surrounded the referee to plead for justice or leniency. It took Mike Tumilty a moment to make up his mind, but he eventually drew out his red card and consigned the visitors to a test of nerve.
Even Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels felt the dismissal was unnecessary. "They must have changed the rules," he said "There must be a Scottish Football Association directive to send off players who make a tackle. If I was Queen of the South, I'd be disappointed. I really can't understand it."
Within minutes, Kilmarnock took the lead, Cillian Sheridan converting Perez's corner with a languid swipe of his left foot at the back post. The finish was composed, even if the execution seemed casual, and that leisurely air was to be a feature of Kilmarnock's play. The likes of Sheridan, Gary Harkins and Perez are never going to hare around the field, but are capable of some deft touches.
Even so, Kilmarnock could not be certain of holding their advantage as Queens remained sprightly and soon found a passing rhythm that proved effective.
There was a wiliness, too, and when the visitors won a free-kick 20 yards out, three Queens players formed a mini-wall to disrupt Kilmarnock's as Chris Mitchell struck the ball. Home goalkeeper Cammy Bell had to move smartly to save the effort. The visitors remained intermittently dangerous and Nicky Clark should have equalised just before half-time but pulled his shot wide from close range. The moment made Kilmarnock anxious, but they could also regret the misfortune of Jamie Fowler hitting the crossbar with a well-struck effort from Perez's cut-back.
A Sheridan effort suffered the same fate in the second half, but a swift counter-attack after a spell of Queens pressure ended with Harkins crossing for Perez to slide a shot beyond Lee Robinson in the visitors' goal.
There must have been satisfaction in the sharp execution of such a decisive passage of play, but the contentment was short-lived. Queens still had the wherewithal and the deter-mination to pull back a goal when the impressive Clark headed home Ryan McGuffie's cross.
If the visitors felt aggrieved at McKenna's sending-off, they were further riled by Tumilty missing Ryan O'Leary handling the ball while clearing. The Kilmarnock defender had been booked in the first half for the same offence, but the outcome of the game was not to be altered.
"It's a hard job for referees," said Queens manager Allan Johnston. "Tackles happen so quickly. [The dismissal] was a strong tackle, but it didn't warrant a sending- off. He won the ball with one leg and the other carried through, but it didn't look as though the tackle was out of control."