Marc McNulty and Lawrence Shankland, their twin strikers, punished Kilmarnock as Dundee United rose into fifth place in the Premiership at Tannadice last night.

McNulty and Shankland struck first-half goals within the space of three minutes to ensure Mick Mellon's men ended a three-game winless streak while intensifying the pressure on Alex Dyer's struggling side.

McNulty celebrated his first goal since signing on loan from Reading in 25 minutes before Shankland chipped in soon after with his first goal in almost three months.

It's ideal preparation for the Tangerines who now welcome Motherwell to Tayside on Boxing Day, before embracing two tough away trips to face both Celtic and Aberdeen next week.

“It was a good performance and we might have got a few more goals,”

said manager Mellon afterwards.

“It was special to see my two strikers scoring.

“They have suffered at times because we needed defensive solidity but we scored two terrific goals.

“Now we're up to where we are now in the league but we just have to keep working hard.

“We're delighted where we are in the table because in reality we are just out of the Championship.”

Kilmarnock created the first glimpse of a chance in eight minutes.

A long ball forward was missed in the air by United centre-back Mark Connolly and Eamonn Brophy pounced on possession.

The on-rushing striker took a touch and tried to beat Benjamin Siegrist low to his near post, but the Swiss keeper was equal to the task as he smothered well.

However, it was United who raced ahead in stunning style in 25 minutes.

Shankland fed McNulty who danced past Kilmarnock defender Kirk Broadfoot before unleashing an unstoppable 20-yard effort low into Danny Rogers' far corner.

It was a wonder striker from the Scotland international and three minutes later the hosts went further in front.

This time Shankland was supplied inside the box by on-loan Man City winger Luke Bolton.

Shankland showed quick feet as he turned smartly to drill a right-footed shot home from 10-yards for his first goal since late September.

The visitors came out after the break knowing they had nothing to lose and, in 52 minutes, Greg Kiltie lashed wide from close-range when a bit more composure could have thrown his side a lifeline.

On the hour mark, United did threaten when Shankland released Liam Smith who, in turn, picked out Paul McMullan but the winger's poor touch saw the move break down in the final third.

Nicky Clark, the United substitute, was prevented from making it 3-0 by Roger's point-blank save in 76 minutes, and the hosts were livid when they were denied a penalty from the rebound as Stuart Findlay seemed to bring down McMullan, It didn't matter though as the Taysiders saw out victory which sees them head into the festive period in fine spirits.

“We started the game well and should have scored but found ourselves up against it when they went ahead, “ said Kilmarnock manager Dyer afterwards.

“It's worrying because we've got a tough period coming up but these players always give me everything.”