Monday, July 30, 2018

2018/19 Premiership preview - Kilmarnock


LAST SEASON: Fifth, 59pts

NOTABLE INS: Stuart Findlay (Newcastle United, loan made permanent), Ross Millen (Queen's Park), Mikael Ndjoli (AFC Bournemouth, loan)

NOTABLE OUTS: Leo Fasan (Falkirk), Jasko Keranovic (West Bromwich Albion, end of loan), Aaron Simpson (Wolverhampton Wanderers, end of loan), Aaron Tshibola (Aston Villa, end of loan), Gordon Greer, Dean Hawkshaw, Youssouf Mulumbu, Alex Samizadeh, Steven Smith, Brad Spencer

LAST SEASON'S BEST XI (Departed players crossed out): MacDonald, O'Donnell, Broadfoot, Findlay, Taylor, Dicker, Power, Mulumbu, Brophy, Jones, K. Boyd

When Lee McCulloch was removed as manager last season, Kilmarnock were bottom of the table and winless in their first eight league games. They had also been beaten in the League Cup Group Stage by Ayr and then thumped 5-0 by Celtic reserves in the last sixteen.

After Steve Clarke took over in October 2017 they picked up 53 points. For comparison, that's the same as Rangers managed. Hibs scored 51 in that timeframe, while Aberdeen got 50. In a table comprising those twenty-nine matches, Killie were only six points behind Celtic.

So how on earth do you follow that up?

It'll certainly be tough. Well into the second half of last season teams were still guilty of underestimating Killie and paid for it frequently. That's unlikely to be the case again.

Kris Boyd was Scotland's top goalscorer last season. Given he is 35 this month, that's unlikely to be the case again...though write him off at your peril.

And last term they had Youssouf Mulumbu bossing the midfield. That's unlikely to be the case again; whilst Mulumbu doesn't have a new club yet he'll not be short of quality suitors after being arguably the best player in Scotland outside Parkhead in 2017/18.

Often in football, you have to run to stand still, and if you stand still you go backwards. Given there aren't many newcomers at Rugby Park so far - only Ross Millen, a lower leaguer given the chance to impress mainly because his dad is on the Kilmarnock staff,  and young Bournemouth loanee Mikael Ndjoli, plus the permanent return of Stuart Findlay - the fear is that Killie could be overtaken by clubs who have been busier.

But crucially they still have Clarke. For all the excellence of Boyd and Mulumbu, no-one was more responsible for the club's unexpected success than the manager. One needs to watch them play for only a few minutes to see that this is an extraordinarily well-coached bunch.

And therefore it is quite possible that Kilmarnock will kick on because the remaining players will continue to improve. Young talents like left-back Greg Taylor, midfielder Greg Kiltie and forward Eamonn Brophy still look like they have potential to unlock. A back four of Taylor, Findlay, veteran Kirk Broadfoot and new Scotland cap Stephen O'Donnell looks very solid, and even in Mulumbu's absence a midfield with Alan Power and Gary Dicker in it isn't going to lose any physical battles.

Jordan Jones is another one who appears to be getting better and better, with the winger increasingly adding a quality end-product to go with his dribbling skills and his hard work. It seems only a matter of time until the Ulsterman moves on to better things; the longer he stays around the better for Killie's prospects as he would be very difficult to replace. At least if Boyd runs out of legs there is Lee Erwin who can potentially step up. There's no-one in the squad who could replace Jones.

The biggest fear of all, of course, is that Clarke is enticed away. For now, he looks revitalized, a man who has fallen back in love with the game after returning north, and happy to keep rolling with the good times and continue to build his reputation back up. Sooner or later though he and Kilmarnock will hit their ceiling; one suspects it's unlikely he'll still be here until even that point arrives.

But Kilmarnock fans are realistic about that. They'll enjoy this while it lasts. No-one really believes that they could actually finish second in the league, but a repeat of 2017/18's fifth spot is certainly achievable. And whilst Clarke is at the helm, they'll continue to punch above their weight like no-one else in the Premiership.

THE SQUAD (players born after 1 January 1997 in italics)
Goalkeepers: Jamie MacDonald, Devlin Mackay
Defenders: Scott Boyd, Kirk Broadfoot, Stuart Findlay, Daniel Higgins, Ross Millen, Stephen O'Donnell, Greg Taylor, Calum Waters, Iain Wilson
Midfielders: Chris Burke, Innes Cameron, Gary Dicker, Adam Frizzell, Jordan Jones, Greg Kiltie, Rory McKenzie, Alan Power, Dom Thomas
Forwards: Kris Boyd, Eamonn Brophy, Lee Erwin, William Graham, Mikael Ndjoli


Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly

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