Kilmarnock have turned many corners. But like someone trapped in a maze with no map to navigate a route out, they had been struggling to make much progress.
There is hope these days that they are on the right track, though, according to defender Steven Smith. On Wednesday night they finally broke the home ground hoodoo, winning at Rugby Park, on league duty, for the first time since last season’s play-offs. And, having withstood the belittling they suffered at the hands of Celtic and then Aberdeen, they have battled back with notable wins over third and fourth placed St Johnstone and Hearts, as well as a decent draw away at Inverness.
The win over a Hearts side gunning for second place was emphatic, with manager Lee Clark hailing it the best of his tenure, and gives the team huge confidence as they head to Ibrox this weekend hoping to take another notable scalp and bulldoze their way into the top six.
“It was a big result for us and we deserved it,” said Smith, pictured. “We could easily have scored a few more but we’ll settle for two and the clean sheet, which was just as important; that’s two in the last three games. I think we’re heading in the right direction.
“Apart from the defeats by Aberdeen and Celtic, we’ve been in with a shout in every game we’ve played. Last year was different – we were being beaten by three or four goals every other week, which wasn’t acceptable.
“I’ve sat here a few times in the past and said that I thought we’d turned the corner but the boys are confident now and they’re enjoying playing, which is a huge thing.”
A combination of perpetual energy being expended in the right ways and some quality individuals has aided the Killie revival and while Smith weighed in with a wonderful goal of his own in midweek, it is the contributions of super signing Souleymane Coulibaly, who netted another superb effort against Hearts, that are causing mouths to water. His manager said he will have a goal of the season dvd of his own by the time the campaign reaches its denouement and there are a few belters already in the reckoning.
“The biggest thing for any player is sheer hard graft but when you can produce goals like his the other night, when you have something special in your locker, that’s massive. He was a great find,” added Smith.
“Not everything he tries comes off but when you score with overhead kicks the way he does or ping one in from 30 or 40 yards then all bets are off.
“He’s already scored two or three contenders for Goal of the Season – and Celebration of the Season as well!”
The Ivorian playmaker unleashed one of his special backflips after he scored a spectacular goal against Celtic and he would do likewise if he could add another against Rangers tomorrow, with Smith confident that the team can go to his former club and get the win.
“Of course we can – and it’ll be about work-rate again,” he said. “With the way Rangers play it’ll be all about what we do without the ball. Then, when we get possession, we’ve got to punish them. It’s a great occasion and a fabulous stadium to go and play in and we’re looking forward to it. I know what it’s like to be a Rangers player when you’re under pressure. Our game plan will be to go and keep things tight for 10-15 minutes and then, hopefully, the crowd turns on them – I’ve seen them do it when I was there.
“That’s when the pressure ramps up and it becomes harder for them to take possession and do something.”