Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Season Review - Alan Walker

Charles Dicken’s once wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” but if you’ve been a Killie fan this year it could be described as “the worst of times, the even more worse of times, the worsest of times and then the wee bit better of times”.

Gary Locke was given funds to spend and he spent the summer creating his own team. He brought in ex-Rangers Kris Boyd (ex-Kilmarnock, surely?), Stevie Smith and Lee McCulloch, ex-Hearts Scott Robinson and Dale Carrick, ex-Thistle Kallum Higginbotham and ex-Falkirk Jamie MacDonald. Locke also brought in Celtic's Stuart Findlay on loan. Some fans were pleased with the signings and looking forward to a good campaign after a tough previous year. However, the preseason games weren’t too inspiring and gave a glimpse of things to come. McKenzie got a last minute winner in a dreadful game in Berwick and he got a further two in a 2-2 against squad-raided Queen of the South. Fans were already questioning the midfield pairing of Hamill and Robinson, which looked slow and, well, useless. Nevertheless, Killie smashed Crusaders 4-0, Fleetwood 3-1 and lost narrowly to Barnsley.

So Saturday 1st August was the first match of the season and Killie welcomed Dundee to the Theatre of Pies (more on that later). Killie were perhaps a little too welcoming as Dundee smashed Killie 0-4, with ex-Killie (naturally) Rory Loy bagging a brace. It was quite clear that Locke had no idea about his settled team yet, making three substitutions at half time, which did little to stem the flow of attack towards MacDonald’s goal. This game followed with a tough trip to Aberdeen where Killie excelled in keeping the score down to a 2-0 Aberdeen win. Next up was Celtic and Killie fans already feared the worse. However a gallus 88th minute Panenka from new signing Higginbotham secured Killie their first point of the season in front of a paltry 6090 supporters.

Killie followed this 2-2 draw up with another at Firhill. Locke was still messing about with his preferred team and with next game against Ross County saw Westlake (replaced after 25 minutes), Connolly (replaced after 11 minutes) and McCulloch (replaced after 41 minutes). Oh, and by the time McCulloch had sleeked off, Killie were 4-0 down. Ex-Killie Gardyne and Jackson doing most of the damage. A comfortable 4-1 win against Berwick at home in the league cup was followed by a 1-0 loss to Motherwell at Fir Park and August was done. Recap – six games in the league, zero wins, two draws, four goals scored, 15 conceded.

Locke had to do something to stop the flood of goals and signed ex-Thistle Conrad Balatoni and ex-Hearts Kevin McHattie. The latter got off to a great start with a winner in a 2-1 win against fellow strugglers Dundee Utd. Killie then followed that up with a 2-1 win against St Johnstone. Next game was the league cup and Killie had drawn recently promoted Hearts. Killie were looking to see out a win when Magennis scored his second in the 80th minute, but after a couple of curious substitutions, Killie lost their shape and Hearts scored the equaliser in the 90th minute, and then the winner four minutes into injury time. Mark Ridgers in goal for Killie after a royal cock-up with Killie’s other three goalkeepers. September ended with a 2-1 home defeat to Hamilton. Killie had yet to keep a clean sheet in league or cup, but MacDonald was already walking away with the POTY trophy.

October treated Killie a little nicer with Balatoni scoring his first for Killie in a 1-1 draw at Tynecastle, a 2-0 thrashing of Inverness at home (finally, a clean sheet!) and a Stevie Smith goal securing all three points at Dens. Hallowe’en wasn’t far off though and a horror show at home gave struggling Motherwell a 1-0 win. The three games in November saw a loss in Perth, another draw against champions Celtic and a 5-2 thrashing at home to the hands of Thistle. Ex-Killie Robbie Muirhead, on loan from Dundee United, scoring two. December wasn’t exactly full of Christmas cheer for Killie. A home draw against doomed Dundee Utd, losses away in the highlands (twice), another 4-0 thrashing (this time at home to Aberdeen) and a narrow 1-0 win in Hamilton which was in no way deserved.

So into the new year and a new transfer period. What delights would the man in charge furnish the despairing supporters with this time? Well, no signings to speak of at first and another poor set of results. The New Year’s game (on the second) secured another point against Hearts, which were then followed by another win in Perth and another win at home to Inverness, thanks lads. Of course, a thrashing was never far away and this time it was provided by Dundee United at Tannadice. They managed to rack-up another 4 goal difference in their 5-1 win which allowed new manager Mixu a little ray of hope in catching up with the pack. Still, Locke hung on. That was until a home defeat against Hamilton. Locke walked (because the board were to spineless to sack him), two new signings were on their way and Killie needed a new manager, fast.

February was another busy month for Killie and new manager Lee Clark. First up was an away Scottish Cup tie to three year-old Rangers. Lee McCulloch was in charge of the team at it showed. Killie defended astutely and left Ibrox with a home-tie replay the following week. Before that, Killie had an away win at Motherwell and a glimmer of hope was hitting some of the fan base. Cue another disaster. Rangers hit an early goal with a second minute penalty, but Rory McKenzie scored a screamer just five minutes later to level the match. Killie looked to be holding out for extra time when another injury-time goal downed us. Nicky Clark this time getting the late goal. February was concluded with a no-score draw at home to Dundee and an away defeat to Hearts.

March saw three losses on the bounce, once of which was a last minute screamer from Celtic’s Rogic and Lee Clark was yet to find a win, although the team was starting to play better and the dross in the squad (McHattie, Westlake, Barbour, Hamill, Robinson, Carrick) were nowhere to be seen. Instead, Dicker and Hodson were performing well, Magennis was managing the odd goal and Boyd was being re-introduced to football. Clark brought in some out of contract signings in the form of Miles Addison, Julien Faubert and Alex Henshall. Addison made an instant impression, Faubert less so and Henshall wasn’t to be seen in April. Nevertheless, April was decent to Killie with a hard fought draw at Firhill, good wins against St. Johnstone and Hamilton and a 3-1 loss in Inverness. Dundee United were well out of it by this point. Hamilton and Thistle were still catchable, as long as Killie played like they had done against St. Johnstone and Hamilton where Boyd and Higginbotham were chipping in with some goals.

So along came May, three games to go, and Killie’s first target was to beat Thistle at home which would mean pulling them further into the relegation struggle and keeping close to Hamilton. However, as with much of the season, Killie didn’t turn up and were easily beaten 2-0, securing both Thistle and Hamilton’s safety. Then followed a pointless away draw at Dundee, who were on a high after relegating their derby rivals the previous Monday. Said rivals then thrashed Killie 4-2 at Rugby Park to end a thoroughly disappointing season for both clubs. Meanwhile, Killie’s chairman Jim Mann had decided to step-down, citing ill health. Killie director Michael Johnston was in the middle of a personal dispute with Killie Pie maker John Gall, which had escalated to legal proceedings involving the copyright of The Killie Pie. had received a refurbishment and Killie had managed to drop the association with the chancers in the BBC hit show The Scheme, only for the association to be replaced by another chancer who liked to record himself shouting at his phone.

Regardless, Killie had a couple of games to win in order to maintain survival in the SPL. Fans were somewhat divided on the matter. Staying up meant a little more financial security, but with another boring year of Hamilton, St. Johnstone, Inverness, Ross County… and with the added ‘bonus’ of having to host rampant, un-educated, bigoted, monarchy-loving, unionist, sectarian, knuckle dragging huns. Going down meant a return to Ayrshire derbies, trips to Dumfries, Greenock, Paisley, Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh. However, it also meant financial instability as it can be certain that the TV companies will drop the Championship like a hot potato.

Killie’s opponents in the play-off final were Falkirk, who dispatched Hibernian with a late goal and left them a wee bit of time to prepare for their Scottish Cup win against Rangers. Killie fans of a certain vintage (yes, it’s getting that long ago) will remember the 1997 Scottish Cup win against Alex Totten’s Falkirk, the 2007 Naismith hat-trick when sent Killie to the CIS Insurance Cup final instead of John Hughes’ Falkirk, and, more recently, the last game of the 2009/10 season which sent Steven Pressley’s Falkirk team to the (then) First Division. So Falkirk were firmly placed on Killie’s mantelpiece, but the pundits had Killie to go down and Houston’s Falkirk to come up. What do pundits know though?

Falkirk were poor in the first leg at the Falkirk Stadium, with their keeper having a good game and an excellent clearing header off the line from a beautiful Boyd shot. Naturally, though, Falkirk did score against Killie and did so in injury time, as has been the case so many times this season. The entire Killie team lost concentration in the very last seconds of the game and Falkirk were set-up to come to Rugby Park with a 1-0 advantage. That advantage lasted two minutes as Josh Magennis (in his natural position) beat the full back and squared for Kiltie to score. Killie then took the advantage just minutes later as the solid Miles Addison pounced on a loose ball in the box. Falkirk fans were stunned, Falkirk players were stunned, pundits were stunned and Killie fans were gobsmacked.

Killie went on to smash Falkirk 4-1 over the two legs to keep their Premiership status intact since 1993. Back on the mantelpiece with Falkirk. Lee Clark spoke to the fans after the game, asking them to show solidarity and to stick with him as he attempts to place Killie in their rightful place higher up the league. In the week since, Killie have released Lee Ashcroft, Conor Brennan , Julien Faubert, Alex Henshall, Chris Johnston, Mark Connolly and Aaron Splaine. These players join Ross Barbour, Darryl Westlake, Jamie Hamill and Scott Robinson who were released previously. Furthermore, Conrad Balatoni, Kallum Higginbotham, Dale Carrick, Kevin McHattie, Mark O’Hara, Tope Obadeyi and David Syme have all been transfer listed. Offers have been made to Rory McKenzie and Craig Slater, the latter of which has made his opinions, that he is rejecting the offer, clear.

Finally, a couple of good lucks go out to both Hodson and Killie’s top-goalscorer Josh Magennis, who both are in the squad for the Northern Ireland Euro 2016 campaign. Fingers crossed for a great tournament from both these players.

Alan Walker

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