WHILE most clubs like to do their transfer business behind closed doors, Kilmarnock appear to have no such inhibitions. Alexei Eremenko, who is negotiating a possible return to the Ayrshire club, conducted the half-time draw at Rugby Park yesterday.
If the plan was to rekindle his strong relationship with the Kilmarnock supporters, it might just have worked. The Finn, who was given a warm reception as he ambled across the playing surface with his arms in the air, must have been pleasantly surprised by the performance of his old team.
This was arguably their best display of the season. While they were less impressive in the second half than they had been in the first, goals by Lee Ashcroft and Kris Boyd gave them a deserved victory that lifts them to eighth in the Premiership.
Boyd’s 13th of the season comes amid speculation that Blackpool, now managed on a caretaker basis by Barry Ferguson, are keen to sign him. “We cannot afford to lose somebody like Boydie,” said Allan Johnston, the Kilmarnock manager. “It’s as simple as that. He is too big a player for us.”
In an ideal world, Johnston would keep Boyd, and team him up with Eremenko, who was such a success at Rugby Park in season 2010-11. The midfield player, a free agent after a spell in Kazakhstan, was due to meet the Kilmarnock manager last night. “We are interested in all quality players, and it would be great to get him here, but time will tell if we can afford him,” said Johnston.
“It’s a big positive that he is here in the first place, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.”
Things are looking up for the Kilmarnock manager. Although Vitalijs Maksimenko, a loan signing from Brighton & Hove Albion, was kept on the bench here, young Greg Kiltie was eye-catching in his first start for the club, as was 17-year-old Robbie Muirhead.
Kilmarnock, in fact, were on the front foot from the moment Muirhead’s early shot, which took the slightest of deflections, forced Dean Brill to save with a low dive. No sooner had that danger been averted than Boyd was exchanging passes with Rory McKenzie and thumping a left-foot effort straight at the goalkeeper.
The breakthrough arrived after only 16 minutes, courtesy of a devilish free kick. Sammy Clingan’s inswinger from the left, expertly slid behind the visitors’ back four, enabled Ashcroft to steal in and direct a glancing header into the far corner of the net.
With a little luck, Kilmarnock might have added to their lead before the interval. Boyd blazed high and wide after another clever one-two with McKenzie. Then, when Clingan’s free kick from deep was headed back across goal, Muirhead sliced a left-foot volley against the post.
Inverness were making little headway, save for the odd long-range effort and a foray into the box by Liam Polworth. After he had beaten two men and flicked his cross along the edge of the six-yard area, Billy McKay couldn’t get enough on the header, which drifted wide.
In the early part of the second half, Inverness were stronger in possession and quicker with their passing, although it was a defensive mix-up that almost gave them an equaliser. When a pair of Kilmarnock defenders contrived to let McKay loose on a bouncing ball, the Inverness striker found himself with only Craig Samson to beat, but he tried to chip it in with the outside of his boot, but the goalkeeper reached high enough to block.
It proved to be a crucial miss. Just when Kilmarnock needed an old hand to steady them, Boyd obliged with a goal that allowed them to breathe easy. When Muirhead stroked the ball into his path, the striker executed a crisp finish from 16 yards.
As the game stretched, Boyd might have grabbed another. This time it was McKenzie who set him up, but the striker’s left foot proved to be less effective than his right. From the same position he had scored, he fluffed it wide.
As Inverness grew desperate, a shot by Graeme Shinnie dropped onto the roof of the net, and McKay’s close-range effort was cleared off the line, but in the end, they left Ayrshire with no less than they deserved.
Kilmarnock: Samson, Irvine, Tesselaar, Slater, Pascali, Ashcroft, Clingan, Boyd, Muirhead, McKenzie
Subs not used: Reguero, Johnston, Gros, Nicholson, Clohessy, Maksimenko, Gardyne.
Goals: L Ashcroft 16; K Boyd 74.
Inverness: Brill, Raven (Draper, 77), Tremarco, Shinnie, Meekings (Devine, 68), Warren, Doran, Williams, McKay, Ross (Watkins, 70), Polworth.
Subs not used: Esson, Vincent, Tansey, Christie.
Referee: W Collum