How much of what is left of Kilmarnock’s season will be about Kris Boyd and Alexei Eremenko?
Scorers: Kilmarnock - Boyd 47, 89; Ross County - Arquin 29, Songo’o 35
With his team two goals down at half-time, the striker scored either side of the arrival from the bench of the Finnish playmaker, back at Rugby Park and, despite a clear lack of fitness, capable already of rousing this stadium with every touch, turn and pass.
“He [Eremenko] is not match fit, but it looks like he’s got time on the ball,” said Allan Johnston, the Kilmarnock manager. “It must be great for strikers. He makes passes that other players can’t see.”
Ross County had capitalised on a first half in which they won supremacy gradually and, by the end of it, Kilmarnock were on the floor. But after Boyd’s first goal, moments after the break, and especially once Filip Kiss, the County midfielder, was sent off, they could not stand the weight of momentum against them.
The County manager, Derek Adams, took apart all three second-half actions against his team afterwards, saying, “The first goal is handball by Boyd. The second goal, he has got two hands on the back of our player. Both fouls and that is how Kilmarnock have got their goals. The sending-off was soft and it’s hugely disappointing. It’s a travesty for football.”
The game ended in farcical conditions, with only the wings fit for football, and the one chance County mustered once they were down to ten men but before Boyd’s stoppage-time equaliser, got stuck in the mud. Melvin De Leeuw sprinted clear and cut a ball back for Alex Cooper which would have resulted in a goal on any playable football pitch.
Adams said afterwards that he had wondered, during the second half, if this game would go the distance. Moments later, Boyd was bumping Brian McLean out from under a Chris Johnston cross from deep on the right and planting a header past Michael Fraser for goal No.15 of the season.
Faced with Adams’ accusation, he put up this defence: “The big boys at the back – if they can’t handle a bit of shoving… it’s a man’s game and you have to stand up to the battles that face you.”
Before the conditions worsened, Kilmarnock went close with two slick plays early on. From wide on the right, Rory McKenzie played successive one-twos with Jackson Irvine and Greg Kiltie in tight spots, then spun Evangelos Oikonomou inside the box. By then, though, he was running out of room and his shot from a tight angle was blocked at the near post by Michael Fraser, the County goalkeeper. Then Robbie Muirhead danced through, evading two tackles before getting a shot away as he fell, which skidded a yard wide of the
County’s first threat was through a clever free kick that was shuttled to Michael Tidser on the edge of the box. His shot was saved low by Craig Samson and the goalkeeper was back on his feet in time to get in the way of Richard Brittain’s drive from the rebound.
County had by now got the best of the game and were soon ahead. Kiss’s first-time pass was just about perfect, giving Yoann Arquin time to take a touch and slide a neat
finish across Samson and into the bottom-left corner. Five minutes later, County’s gathering momentum was turned into a second goal. Carey engineered enough space on the D to get a shot off and after it took one deflection, Yann Songo’o reacted to divert the ball for a second time, his glanced header kissing Samson’s left-hand post on its way in.
Kilmarnock got the immediate resuscitation they needed after the break. Jeroen Tesselaar’s corner was knocked down by Boyd into the softest part of the muddy six-yard box. As it stuck there, Boyd reacted first, spinning to lift it high into the net.
That changed the story of the game completely. First McKenzie took off on a swerving run through the middle and slammed a low drive against the post. Then Robbie
Muirhead dribbled across the 18-yard line, right-to-left, and hooked a shot back across goal that missed by inches.
This surge was heightened by the arrival of Eremenko, and then by a second booking for Kiss, who had been on thin ice for a while before he bodychecked Muirhead in midfield.
Regardless of his condition, Eremenko shone like a diamond in the mud, his every pass creating a glimpse of brighter times ahead. He may not have had a hand in Boyd’s late equaliser, but the striker is not the only one convinced the partnership will be profitable between now and May. “He is a fantastic player, the type people want to pay to see,” said Boyd. “You make runs and you know he is going to find you.”
Kilmarnock: Samson, Irvine, Tesselaar (Johnston, 83), Clingan, Ashcroft, Pascali, Kiltie (Eremenko, 68), Slater, Boyd, Muirhead, McKenzie.
Subs not used: Reguero, Nicholson, Maksimenko, Gardyne, O’Hara.
Goals: K Boyd 48, 90.
Booked: S Clingan
Ross County: Fraser, Gordon, Songo’o, Brittain, McLean, Ikonomou, Kiss, Tidser (Cooper, 65), Arquin (Quinn, 88), Slew (De Leeuw, 73), Carey.
Subs not used: Brown, Cikos, Boyd, Glen.
Goals: Y Arquin 30; Y Songo’o 36.
Booked: F Kiss
Sent off: F Kiss (second bookable offence)
Referee: C Allan