AYR United are still waiting to taste victory in an Ayrshire Derby in this millennium, after being dumped out of the League Cup by their Premiership hosts, in front of a terrific crowd of 8,877 at Rugby Park.
Scorer: Kilmarnock - McKenzie (69)
The advantage Killie had enjoyed over the many previous meeting between the clubs on grass continued on the new artificial turf.
The goal came in the 69th minute, when Chris Chantler scampered down the left and crossed left-footed and knee-high.
Rory McKenzie brought the ball down with this right foot, before firing a crisp left-footer past the despairing dive of Dave Hutton in the visitors’ goal.
The finish was as good as any in games between the clubs and, in some ways, far too good for a match which seldom rose above the mundane.
League 1 leaders Ayr certainly showed the confidence of league pacesetters in taking the game to their more illustrious hosts, with Brian Gilmour and Nicky Devlin both came close in the opening three minutes.
Those let-offs only served to get Killie going and they dominated the next 20 minutes but only troubled Hutton once, when he was only too happy to see a Sammy Clingan 19-yard free-kick graze the top of his crossbar and go over. Thereafter, the game fell away and Killie boss Allan Johnston was sufficiently worried to “hook” Tope Obadeyi, shortly after he had delayed his shot to spurn a glorious chance.
To be generous, perhaps he is unused to the passion which this fixture continues to engender amongst the fans.
That brought Finn Alexei Eremenko into the action and he soon began to spray some exquisite passes around. However, the first half ended scoreless.
The second period was much the same story. Killie played the better football, had the lion’s share of possession but seldom troubled Hutton until, out of the blue, Chantler set-up McKenzie for that all-important goal.
Josh Magennis missed three half-chances, two before the goal, one afterwards, while, particularly following the McKenzie goal, United ceased to be an attacking force on anything other than a sporadic basis.
Not so the Rugby Parkers, and it took a tremendous flying save from Hutton, diving to his right to stop a Clingan free-kick in 85 minutes and deny the home side a second.
Within a minute of that near miss, the home fans felt secure enough in their one-goal advantage to break into a chorus of “Paper Roses”, but Ayr won an inconclusive free-kick, which silenced the choir.
Referee Craig Thomson had a mainly hassle-free evening. Martin Campbell of Ayr was always the favourite to collect the game’s first yellow card, which he did in 44 minutes. He was joined in the book, in the second half, by Killie’s Chantler and United skipper Scott McLaughlin.
However, by the standards of this fixture, this was largely incident-free and it certainly lacked the passion of yore, on the field, if not in the stands.
This is easily explained. Full-time, Premiership Kilmarnock were simply, even at less than full throttle, too good for their game, part-time lower division opponents.
That said, United kept going to the end, and the game finished with the action taking place in the home penalty area, as United strove mightily, but in vain, to force extra time.
However, this was surely a confidence-booster for both sides. Killie were calm, controlled, if a bit predictable and, in the less-technical waters of the First Divison, Ayr will be a force to be reckoned with.
So, the rivals go their separate ways and Killie fans will have bragging rights at work tomorrow. After that fallow spell in the first half, the game provided a good standard of entertainment, so here’s to the next time – whenever that might be.
Kilmarnock: Samson; Barbour, Connolly, Pascali, Chantler; R McKenzie, Clingan, Hamill, Muirhead/Johnston (55), Obadeyi/Eremenko (36); Magennis/Miller (90). Subs not used: Brennan, Cairney, Ashcroft, Slater.
Ayr: Hutton; Devlin, McKi9nlay, Campbell, Murphy; Forrest/Shirkie (76), McGovern, McLaughlin, Gilmour, Donald; Donnelly. Subs not used: Newman, S McKenzie, McArthur, Roberts, McGill, Muir.