Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Season Review - David Shaw

Saturday 1st of August was a day that most Killie fans will want to forget. Our opening fixture against Dundee was utterly diabolical. Two goals down at half-time (it honestly could have been 22 if it hadn’t been for Jamie MacDonald), 3 half-time substitutions and a healthy home support already heading for the exits as Harkins added a 3rd at the start of the second half, the message wasn’t just written on the wall for Killie fans – it was tattooed all over our faces – “THIS DOESN’T LOOK GOOD!” A fourth goal rammed this message further down our throats as loyal fans already contemplated finding something better to do on a Saturday afternoon.

Former Killie stalwarts, Pascali and Eremenko, had long sailed into the sunset during the close season and the d├ębutantes brought in by Gary Locke looked strangely out of their depth. Indeed, Locke’s new defensive midfield partnership of Hamill and Robinson only lasted about as long as the attack on Pearl Harbour, albeit the battering they took from the Dundee strike force was far worse than anything the Japanese Navy could ever muster.

A further 2-0 defeat by Aberdeen at Pittodrie kept Killie at the foot of the table as Celtic came calling on a delightful Wednesday evening, fully expecting to hammer a Killie side low on confidence. However, from somewhere, Ayrshire’s finest finally found their feet. Magennis steered home his first of the season and new signing, Higginbotham, coolly chipped in a penalty to give us a deserved point.
Three days later, Boydie rescued a point at Firhill with a late equaliser and you started to feel that the tide was maybe turning our way. Then, Ross County came calling, and the rest is history.

I remember being excited about doing my first match report, pen and paper on hand, wondering if I would find anything useful to write about in the first few minutes. Alas, my pen never left the paper as four goals were smashed into the Killie net in a first half that sent shudders through every home fan. Assistant manager, Lee McCulloch, had made his debut in this match at the age of 38, and left the field after 41 terrifying minutes to try and find a darkened room to hide in. If we thought our form had improved recently then this match sent us a grim warning that we hadn’t. In actual fact – we stank worse than the toilets at Somerset Park!

Incredibly, things then picked up a bit. Wins over Berwick in the League Cup, Dundee Utd and St Johnston in the league, and a narrow defeat to Motherwell, suggested that a wee bit of confidence may have returned. However, subsequent home defeats to Hearts in the next round of the cup and then Hamilton at home kept us within touching distance of the bottom of the league.

As October came calling, Locke signed defender, Conrad Balatoni, and decided to partner him with Stuart Findlay in central defence. It seemed a huge gamble but mercifully they both instantly gelled as Killie finally went on a decent run. An excellent draw at Tynecastle was followed up by victories over Inverness at home and a revenge win at Dens Park. Suddenly, the optimists in our support began touting Killie as a potential top 6 side, especially as lowly Motherwell were next to visit Rugby Park. Killie began the match positively and absolutely battered the 'Well defence but just couldn’t find the net. And, as so often happens, Motherwell stole the 3 points near the end. The wheels all but fell off our bus at that very point as the season began to descend into chaos. An unexpected draw at Parkhead was about all that we could show for the next two months as we were constantly torn apart – especially by Thistle and Aberdeen on the plastic-fantastic.

At the turn of the year, Killie were lying second bottom of the league, with only Dundee Utd worse off. A slight turn of form saw us begin 2016 with victories over St Johnstone and Inverness and hope was renewed as we faced basement boys, Dundee Utd, at Tannadice, knowing victory here would almost certainly cut them free at the foot of the table. However, a humiliating 5-1 defeat brought us back down to earth with a bang. We were now in deep trouble and Locke was starting to feel the pressure. At the end of January, Accies came calling and won 1-0. Gary Locke was sacked soon after and Lee McCulloch took over as caretaker manager. Immediately, we began to improve with a hard-fought draw at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup and an excellent 2-0 victory at Fir Park.

Various names were mentioned to take over the hot-seat but McCulloch ruled himself out from the start. Former Newcastle midfielder, Lee Clark, was eventually named as our saviour, but after losing to Rangers in the cup replay, his first 6 league games yielded just 2 points. As we prepared to face St Johnstone at the beginning of April, Clark knew that something had to happen or we were doomed. Fortunately, we won 3-0 and a further 4-0 win away to Hamilton gave us hope of avoiding the play-off spot. Then, the spoilers from Maryhill arrived and left Rugby Park with a 2-0 win, thus ensuring their own survival, whilst also condemning Killie to a play-off with a side from the Championship.

On Thursday 19th of May, Killie travelled to Falkirk for the first leg of the play-off. They fought like tigers from the start but just couldn’t break down the Bairns’ stubborn defence. A late Falkirk goal gave our opponents an undeserved victory and a great opportunity to relegate us in the second leg at The Theatre of Pies. Three days later, however, well, let’s just say…sometimes it’s good to be alive…
The mass clear-out that followed our 4-0 play-off win certainly hinted that Lee Clark means business. Next season will have to be much more appealing for everyone as crowds are dwindling faster than the Greek economy. We really need something worth watching on the plastic-fantastic – and I don’t mean Rod Stewart or Glasgow Warriors!

Killie fans everywhere – enjoy the break and see you next season.

David Shaw

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