Kilmarnock were faced with this predicament in their first term back with the big boys on May 14, 1994 , travelling to Leith hoping to avoid one of three relegations spot as the league moved from 12 teams back to 10.
In the days of a 44-game season, Dundee and Raith Rovers were already down as Killie headed to the capital in a three-way battle for survival with Partick Thistle and St Johnstone.
Under inspirational player-boss Tommy Burns, Kilmarnock had enjoyed their return to the top table, beating Rangers home and away as well as securing a draw away to Celtic. They also reached the Scottish Cup semi-finals, only losing to Rangers in a replay.
A hard working side full of experienced players had some practice of last day deciders, having won promotion to the Premier Division with a 0-0 draw against Hamilton the year previously.
Unlike now, Hibs were riding high in the league occupying fifth place while Kilmarnock’s relegation rivals faced seventh place Hearts and third place Motherwell respectively.
Over 6,000 travelling fans made it to Easter Road as Burns’ team secured a point and safety on goal difference with Hearts beating Partick Thistle 1-0. It was St Johnstone who fell through the trap door despite seeing off Motherwell by a single goal.
Speaking in David Ross' book 'Killie Greats', defender Ray Montgomerie summed up the magnitude of that day.
He said: "The pressure that day was tremendous. We kept receiving messages from the bench telling us what was happening elsewhere so when the whistle blew we knew we stayed up even though we'd only drawn.
"That first season was difficult. I doubt if any other manager and group of players could have achieved so much.
"I would put it on a par with winning the Scottish Cup. Though we could have won that as well in 1994."
It’s a day that lives long in the memory with fans who believe it set the tone for future years of success at Rugby Park, which saw several trips to Europe as well as the 1997 Scottish Cup triumph.
Naturally football has changed greatly over the past 20 years but the significance of survival remains the same.
Gus MacPherson Recalls the match... “The tension that surrounded the day was something I rarely experienced again as a player. It was the year prior to league reconstruction making the Premier Division a 10-team league and three teams were being relegated.
“Dundee and Raith Rovers were already down but it was between us, Partick and St Johnstone for the third bottom spot.
“We just came up that season after finishing second to Raith and everybody had tipped us both to go straight back down.
“But we played a lot of good football under Tommy Burns and got into a position where our destiny was in our own hands.
“We had to go to Easter Road and get a draw to stay up and the build-up was really hard because so much was riding on the result.
“It was practically a full house and the atmosphere was incredible. Killie took through an amazing support – about 6000 – and they gave us great backing, as they had all season.
“It was a scorching day and we played really well in the first half. George McCluskey missed a couple of chances and we could have been doing with one of them going in because the longer the game went at 0-0, the more the pressure was building, knowing that conceding one goal would send us down.
“In the end we defended well and only gave up one real chance, which thankfully Kevin McAllister missed. We were hanging on a bit at the end but the spirit within that group was quite incredible and that’s what got us over the line at the end.
“Tommy played that day in the middle of the park with Mark Reilly. We needed their experience because some of the guys like myself, Ally Mitchell and Shaun McSkimming were quite young. Tommy was a massive player for us and you could see his delight as he celebrated at the end.
“In the dressing room I just sat slumped on a bench. I was totally drained, emotionally more than physically.
“The overwhelming feeling I had was one of relief that we’d stayed up, rather than joy.
“We knew it was a fantastic achievement to stay up when three were going down and ultimately it was the St Johnstone boys who felt the pain. They ended up on 40 points, same as us and Thistle, but we stayed up on goal difference.
“That was one of the two biggest days of my Killie career. The other was obviously winning the Scottish Cup three years later but that was completely different.
“When the final whistle went in the final at Ibrox, it was just an explosion of absolute joy.
“The club knew how big it was and on the day before the game they paid for us to go to the Marine Hotel in North Berwick, to prepare and relax in the proper way. I don’t know if Killie’s current finances will stretch to the same kind of thing but it definitely helped us.”
Baz Recalls... On a personal note, one day out we'll never forget was the final day of the season at Easter Road in our first season back in the big league. All the good times we've had in the last 12 years would probably never have happened had we got relegated that day. Tommy Burns was in charge as well over 6,000 Killie fans travelled to the capital praying Killie wouldn't be one of the three teams to go down that season. Some fans simply couldn't watch the nail-biting action whilst many had radios in the ears checking on how St Johnstone were doing. Others were that puggled they were watching the bowling in the opposite direction and wondering why the game was so slow (stand up Davie Morris!)
Thankfully we secured a no score draw and that saw us survive by the skin of our teeth. The atmosphere at full time was unforgettable and the sight of thousands of Killie fans marching up Easter Road brought a tear to the eye. We celebrated that night as if we'd won the league but the importance of that day should never be forgotten.
Kilmarnock: Geddes, McPherson, Black, Montgomerie, Burns, Millen, Mitchell, Reilley, Brown, McKluskey ( Napier), McSkimming.
Again astonishing scenes, at the final whistle as players and supporters celebrated "as one" ...... Killie's Premier League survival !!! (And Tommy saying his good-bye's) Killie finished in 8th position with 12 wins & 16 draws from 44 matches. Bobby Williamson was top scorer with 7 goals.
During Manchester United's press conference after they had won the English premier League, that same day, Alex Ferguson asked the press............. "Before I answer any of your questions ..... Can anyone tell me how Kilmarnock got on today?"
Fan Match Memories
KRMTF… Definitely broono who scored "disallowed" goal. Probably my favorite Killie day out ever.
Oboab…Train down from Carnoustie. Met the pals (Hibees) and went boozing down Broughton Street. My daughters had made me a huge Killie rosette so I was very inconspicuous. Sauntered to Easter Road and had a free bag of chips in Miele Bros chipper. Crossed road and was bought a few pints by the Shortlees Saints . Went to match. Some twat from Onthank broke my walking stick when we had a goal disallowed. Hirpled out and was carried along by a huge mass of Killie boys. Found myself on a bus to Kilmarnock, but managed to remember I had come on the train. Got back to Broughton Street for a pint. Mate's father lent me his walking stick. Got last Aberdeen train and arrived in Arbroath to find there was a taxi strike, and the last bus had gone three hours ago. Woke wife and got rescued by brother in law who crashed my car on the way home. Typical day out for a Killie fan.
Killie_fae_MK ….Defo Broono that got the "offside" goal. BTW - that photie of TB (top of thread) makes ma blood boil every time I see it........tae think that just a few weeks later, he was outside the Tattiedome with a green n' white scarf above his head. Mind you, if he hadn't gone then, he'd probably still be Killie manager today!!!!
killiepie …. One of the great days. As noted the match was mince but it was the result that counted. Travelled over to the game from Glenrothes with a mate and met up with two Hibs fans early doors Edinburgh. Huge amounts of drink prior to the game. Ended up in the Hibs social club after the game to celebrate. To be fair the Hibs support was relaxed about the whole thing. Intention was to have a couple of pints and catch the 6.30 train to Glenrothes. At the end of the day we ended up playing bingo in the club and eventually assisted on to the last train at 11.10. The ticket collector eventually approached us some five miles from Glenrothes saw our Killie gear and ernestly enquired if we were on the correct train. Super day.
The Ref (R.I.P.) .. I remember sitting with my head in my hands under the floodlight pylon for the last 10 minutes - was feart to look.
plunkit ..Also remember travelling on train to Glasgow for Irvine with Thistle fans who told us we were going down. Met them on last train later on and they were very relieved to have escaped relegation by one goal !! that shut the smug so & so's up.. Where are they now I wonder?
Caltonkid… Traveled up to the game on the ayrshire districts bus,found a great boozer doing a £1.00 a pint offer pub was absolutely jumping - made our way down to the ground just in time for kick-off,game was crap but we got the point that we needed to keep us up always remember TB on his knees at the end of the game greetin with emotion fantastic support that day - got right behind the team from the start team never stopped running - not just in that game but for the whole time TB was in charge, every player seemed psyched up for every game and gave 100%
Rugbyroader … Poor game, great result. I just remember standing before kick off and seeing thousands of Killie supporters pouring down the street toward the Killie end. Heart was in mouth for the entire game. TBs comment on radio afterwards when asked if the players were on a high - ' aye ye canny stop a balloon from floatin'. Classic day altogether.
PieRSquared … Don't remember much jus that like Squirrelhumper was in Edinburgh very early and it was VERY warm. Remember the "offside" goal and thats about that. Brilliant day, crap game but we stayed up against all the odds. A reported 7,000 Killie fans at an away game...Magic.
killie_loyal … A just remember a was a wee boy and on the bus up with my m8 and both our families, me and my m8s task was to spell "killie" we were adamant it was KILY lol.
fraggle … Can’t remember who it was that was involved in the other game that mattered to us, but some prick started a false rumour that our rivals had scored, making everyone even more nervous.
RayD … There was a "goal" chalked off...I thought it was McLuskey though. Anyway, a great support that day....too tense to be able to enjoy the game though. The sea of blue and white scarfs at the end would bring a tear to a glass eye. We did what we had done most of that season, harrased and harried the opposition like mad dogs. Tremendous team spirit, honest players who gave 100% in every game, plus a chairman and manager who inspired every one of us.
Killie_fae_MK … Didn't wee Broono have a goal that was chalked off for offside in that game???? Remember that the terracing was absolutely full (a sight you only really saw when the Old Filth isited). Also remember a wee old woman at her tenament window - after the game - watching the sea of blue and white underneath. Walking back to the car, I'm sure something started in a local bookies and - before we knew it - thousands of Killie fans piled in there. Definitely the best "away" support that I've been part of, in terms of both numbers and voice.
hairy_coo … My abiding memory was the sea of heads as you looked back down the street at the killie support heading for their buses after the game. It was like watching the London Marathon.
funky monkey … The game was coincidental. As soon as the first whistle went, I wanted it to be over. I was so nervous, we'd had Palmerston, Cowdenbeath and Hamilton and now Hibs, historically important events for KFC. The support was immense, the sun blazing hot. The game was utter mince, but that wasn't the point. We made it, we stayed up, there were three teams going down and we weren't one of them. It was a monumental achievement. Tommy Burns was the man! What a day, what an experience. It made you proud to be a Killie fan.
markr … Apart from the hot day, players working like h*ll to keep a clean sheet and the sense that time stood still in that thousands of killie fans were ever waiting for the final whistle overbiding memory is of the large killie support and the feeling of belonging to my club, to the board, to my team and its players and Manager. We were as one that day and in that period of our history.
Squirrelhumper … Traveled up to game at 9am, arrived in Princess Street about 11am. Walked up to stadium at 12.30ish and welcomed the team. Talked to TB, Billy stark etc. Was one of the first in the ground when gates opened, was only 10, can remember endless stream of killie fans pilling into ground. Wasn't that nervous at game as I was just young but can remember the tension and Joy around me. Support was first class that day, as was walk down Leith walk after game. I can vividly remember some Hibs casuals throwing bottles into the killie fans as we walked back to the buses, which resulted in a gang of killie fans running in and sorting them out! Quality game, best away support I've ever been part of.
Skydog … Terrible game - can't remember a shot at goal for either side. Spent more time looking at my watch than the action on the pitch! Great scenes at the end.
plunkit … Celebratory vodkas in Cafe Royal afterwards stick in my mind. Great day out..sun burnt down one side of my face !!