DCSIMG

Kilmarnock 0-0 St Johnstone: Both sides lack spark

Gwion Edwards battles it out with Kilmarnock's Rabiu Ibrahim. Picture: SNS

Gwion Edwards battles it out with Kilmarnock's Rabiu Ibrahim. Picture: SNS

  • by EWING GRAHAME AT RUGBY PARK
 

During his ill-starred tenure as manager of Birmingham City, the colourful Barry Fry once urinated in all four corners of the pitch at St Andrew’s in an attempt to lift a curse which it was claimed had been inflicted on the club by vengeful gypsies who had been forced to leave the site when the stadium was first constructed.

Whether Kilmarnock have offended the travelling community in a similar fashion is unknown but manager Allan Johnston may feel compelled to try something equally outlandish in an effort to cure his team’s homesickness.

His predecessor, Kenny Shiels, was sacked after posting the worst results at Rugby Park since 1981 and, if yesterday is any guide, then it will be another long season for the Ayrshire fans.

Kilmarnock have failed to win at home since February, losing five of their last eight matches on their own turf. Their record against yesterday’s opponents is even worse, with four draws and five defeats in their last nine meetings, although St Johnstone can feel fortunate that they returned to Tayside with a point. Kilmarnock had the bulk of possession and the better chances but could not capitalise, hitting the woodwork twice.

The visitors made five changes from the side which was eliminated from the Europa League by FC Minsk on Thursday, with Gwion Edwards, Chris Millar, Brian Easton, Rory Fallon and Murray Davidson replacing Paddy Cregg, Gary McDonald, David Wotherspoon, Nigel Hasselbaink and Steven MacLean.

Johnston, meanwhile, elected to give Kris Boyd, who came off the bench to score at Aberdeen on the opening day, a start up front alongside Paul Heffernan.

The pair first combined in the 12th minute when Boyd nodded on Mark O’Hara’s long ball out of defence and Heffernan’s netbound drive was deflected behind by Frazer Wright.

Goalkeeper Alan Mannus then found himself in no-man’s land as he unwisely left his line for a through ball he was never likely to claim. Heffernan reached it first but his cutback failed to find a team-mate.

For the most part, though, it was a dreary affair, with both teams playing percentage football. Unfortunately, as they took Route One and fought for second balls in the final third, there was little to quicken the pulse.

Heffernan registered the first effort on target six minutes from the interval but his header from Rabiu Ibrahim’s cross was kept out by Mannus.

A set play was always the most likely vehicle for breaking the deadlock and Mannus produced a superb reflex save to keep out Darren Barr’s header from Rory McKenzie’s inswinging corner.

The visitors had little to offer in an attacking sense. Even when Tam Scobbie picked out Rory Fallon with a deep cross from the left touchline, the striker’s looping header landed on top of the net, rendering the goalkeeper Craig Samson’s services redundant.

On an afternoon when industry trumped artistry, it was surprising that it took Kilmarnock until the 63rd minute before introducing Chris Johnston for the ineffective Ibrahim. Johnston can be guilty of running up blind alleys at times but the 18-year-old, a throwback to the diminutive Scottish wingers of yesteryear, at least offers the possibility of excitement and unpredictability.

Saints saw more of the ball after the break but, then again, they could hardly have had less. Even so, the Perth men preferred to shoot from distance than attempt to engineer openings by getting in behind Killie’s back four.

Unfortunately, the quality of the shooting was on a par with the rest of the game and Samson was rarely called upon to display his qualities.

Saints had an appeal for a penalty rejected when Boyd appeared to tug Steven Anderson’s shirt as they attacked a free kick.

Jeroen Tesselaar collected the only yellow card of the contest for an ill-judged lunge at Stevie May.

Boyd came close to breaking the deadlock in the 78th minute. Long-serving midfielder James Fowler supplied Boyd and he cut inside Wright but his scuffed shot from 15 yards, which had Mannus scrambling across his line, and struck the goalkeeper’s left-hand post before trundling harmlessly behind.

The former Rangers and Scotland striker came closer still three minutes later. The home support screamed for a penalty when a piledriver by William Gros appeared to strike Wright on the arm.

While referee Willie Collum quite correctly ignored the appeals, Boyd latched on to the loose ball to smash an angled drive against the underside of the crossbar.

A mazy run by Johnston teed up an opening for Heffernan but Mannus, at full stretch, dived to his left to deny the Dubliner.

Kilmarnock: Samson, O’Hara, Barr (Pascali 90), Tesselaar, McKeown, McKenzie (Gros 74), Jacobs, Fowler, Ibrahim (Johnston 64), Boyd, Heffernan. Subs not used: Reguero, Barbour, Fisher, Davidson.

St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Anderson, Wright, Scobbie, Millar, M Davidson, Brian Easton (Wotherspoon 52), Edwards (McDonald 65), May, Fallon (MacLean 75). Subs not used: Cregg, Hasselbaink, Banks, Miller.

 

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