WITH a style and dynamism which was conspicuous by its absence for most of the season, Kilmarnock preserved their top-flight status with an emphatic victory against a Falkirk side who suddenly found themselves running on empty.
It was mission accomplished for Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark, who will now target loftier goals in the role he took up three months ago.
Trailing 1-0 from the first leg of the Premiership play-off final, Clark’s team delivered a dominant display which wiped out that deficit with goals by Greg Kiltie and Miles Addison in the opening eight minutes.
Further strikes in the second half by Kiltie and Kris Boyd – his 99th goal for the club – completed a comfortable aggregate success.
Peter Houston’s team, who have brought so much to the party for Scottish football this season, could offer little in response on this occasion.
The blistering start by his side was exactly what Clark, an animated figure on the touchline throughout the afternoon, would have requested of them beforehand.
Having lost the initiative in stoppage time in the first leg last Thursday night, they seized it back with the two early goals.
Falkirk were simply unable to cope with the high energy and irresistible hunger of Kilmarnock’s play in the opening exchanges.
Josh Magennis, who recovered from injury to take his place in the starting line-up, did not take long to underline why he has become such an influential player for the hosts.
The Northern Ireland international proved a real handful for Falkirk left-back Luke Leahy, typified by his surging run and cutback to create the opening goal in the third minute. Magennis’ cutback picked out Kiltie who slammed home a low right-foot shot from around 12 yards.
Falkirk tried to respond quickly, with Tom Taiwo’s shot blocked by 18-year-old defender Greg Taylor who was making only his second first team appearance for Killie, but it was an all-too-rare hint of attacking threat by the visitors.
They soon found themselves 2-0 down on the day and behind in the tie.
Lee Hodson collected a Magennis throw-in on the right and whipped in an inviting cross. Falkirk defender Aaron Muirhead managed to win the aerial battle but succeeded only in helping the ball into the path of Addison who forced it home from close range.
Lee Ashcroft might have done better than shoot straight at Falkirk goalkeeper Danny Rogers, then Boyd shanked a left-foot shot wide as Killie maintained their early momentum,
Houston’s men gradually secured a toehold in the game as half-time approached but the closest they came to hitting back was when Craig Sibbald volleyed a John Baird cross directly into the grasp of Jamie MacDonald.
If Falkirk could score the next goal, the complexion of the tie would change significantly and Houston introduced Blair Alston for Taiwo in a bid to give his team more of a creative edge.
But it was Kilmarnock who struck again in the 62nd minute to tip the balance firmly in their favour. Tope Obadeyi, who earlier had struck the top of the crossbar from close range, broke free on the left and squared the ball for Kiltie to finish with assurance once again from around 12 yards.
Three minutes later, the tie was effectively over and Killie’s top-flight status assured when they made it 4-0. Boyd was the scorer but all the credit belonged to Magennis who made a tremendous run from inside his own half, shrugging off a couple of challenges before setting up his strike partner for a simple close-range tap-in.
No stoppage-time heroics would be able to save Falkirk this time as they were left to contemplate a seventh consecutive season of second-tier football.
There was a pitch invasion at full-time by about 100 Kilmarnock fans, some of whom lit a flare in the centre circle, but happily the situation was quickly contained and the home team’s celebrations were able to commence.