WITH a 6ft 6in tall team-mate making his debut, it is fair to say young Craig Slater needed a big performance to steal the limelight. It took quite something to set Michael Ngoo in the shade on his Kilmarnock debut.
SCORERS: Ross County, Boyce 81; Kilmarnock, Magennis 39, Obadeyi 56
Slater is just 20 and another of those blossoming Scottish talents sure to be attracting the eagle eye of international manager Gordon Strachan and, if Allan Johnston’s fears are accurate, bigger clubs beyond Ayrshire bounds.
Ngoo did well enough after signing a two-year deal, but the impact of others was more telling. Slater with his keen creativity and the strength and menace of goalscorers Josh Magennis and the ultimate matchwinner Tope Obadeyi. Johnston, though, singled out Slater, the Scotland under 21 international, for special mention and admitted he fears losing the kid after another dazzling show in Dingwall.
“Any time the ball went in towards the box we were causing Ross County all sorts of problems. Some of the delivery from the wide areas was different class,” Johnston said.
“Ross Barbour put in a lot of good crosses and Tope Obadeyi did as well, but for me young Craig Slater stole the show with some of his passing. With the range of passing he showed today you can see he is not going to be here with Kilmarnock for very long.
“But the good thing is we have a few quality players still to come in. The likes of Sammy Clingan and Eremenko both missed pre-season, but they will add a lot when fully fit.”
The Highlanders did strike, finally, through Liam Boyce in the 81st minute, but it proved too little too late. County initially seemed to be warming to the task promisingly in Dingwall sunshine. The intent was clear as Graham Carey went close with a strike over with his weaker right foot and Killie looked rattled for a spell. Towards half-time, though, Killie came increasingly into it and County’s Spanish keeper Antonio Reguero was decisively beaten after 39 minutes.
Slater’s free-kick from the left was cleared but returned to his control and the youngster’s cross was perfect for ex-Don Josh Magennis to head the opener close in.
Jervis squandered a great County chance just after the break, miscontrolling a Balk cross into the keeper’s arms. And it proved a costly one for the Highlanders as Killie stormed 2-0 up after 56 minutes. It was painfully simple for Tope Obadeyi as he glanced in Barbour’s cross with County’s defence posted missing.
The Dingwall team were trying everything they could to prise a way back and Carey’s brilliant burst was only stopped by the timely, outstretched leg of Magennis on the left.
Ex-Cliftonville and Werder Bremen striker Liam Boyce sprang from the bench after 72 minutes and was to make his mark nine minutes later with a close-range header from fellow sub Joe Cardle’s excellent cross.
County kept piling at Killie to the death but just couldn’t crack them.
“We might have scored before they did – but that’s been the story of our season so far,” Adams said. “We’ve had good chances to score and controlled, I thought, the first 35 minutes. We could definitely have done more in the last ten or 15 minutes to get that second goal.”