KILMARNOCK are heading to Edinburgh for a high noon showdown on Saturday with Premiership safety on the line – and the ominous news for Hibs is that the Ayrshire team’s leading marksman has them firmly in his sights.
Scorers: Kilmarnock - Boyd (21)
Kris Boyd once again underlined his almost inestimable value to the cause of Allan Johnston’s men as his 21st goal of the season earned them a victory over St Mirren, which has seen them seize the initiative in the battle to avoid 11th place in the table and a relegation play-off.
They now need only a draw at Easter Road to guarantee top-flight football for another year, heaping the pressure on Terry Butcher’s side for whom only victory will now spare them from the threat of the trapdoor into the Championship.
Kilmarnock, after an uncertain start last night, fully merited a result which ended a run of four successive defeats and brought much-needed respite to their under-fire manager. They will be without James Fowler for Saturday’s game, the veteran midfielder sent off in the closing stages as they frantically saw out a potentially priceless win.
With St Mirren’s safety already assured before kick-off, there may have been a natural inclination for them to bring less intensity to their work on this occasion. But there was little question about the motivational levels of Danny Lennon’s side in the opening stages as they hemmed Kilmarnock into their own half. The home side could barely get a kick in those early minutes and there was a nervousness about their play – eventually soothed by Boyd’s goal – which betrayed the perilous situation they had found themselves in after Sunday’s 5-0 capitulation at Hearts.
There was almost a calamitous start for Kilmarnock when their Latvian defender Vitalijs Maksimenko’s attempt to cut out a low cross from Kenny McLean saw him miscue horribly, the ball looping narrowly over his own crossbar. A slack pass from Maksimenko then presented St Mirren with their first clear sight of goal but McLean dragged his 20-yard shot wide of Craig Samson’s right-hand post.
Kilmarnock gradually hauled themselves on to a more even keel and should have made the breakthrough in the 13th minute. It was the kind of opportunity Boyd normally converts with ruthless efficiency but he shanked his shot wide from around eight yards after Marc McAusland failed to cut out Rory McKenzie’s cutback.
Steven Thompson came close to making Kilmarnock pay an immediate price for Boyd’s miss, getting on the end of a quickly taken Jim Goodwin free-kick and guiding a header narrowly off target when left unattended by the home defence.
But Boyd did not waste the chance to make amends for his earlier aberration when it came his way in the 21st minute. Christopher Dilo made a fine save to claw away a powerful Manuel Pascali header but he was beaten when the ball was returned to the penalty area by Alexei Eremenko for Boyd to fire it home from close range.
The commitment of the Killie players was not open to question, evidenced by the rapid rate in which they were collecting yellow cards, with Ross Barbour, Lee Ashcroft and James Fowler all cautioned in the first half. But the approach was working for the home team who were firmly in the ascendancy and only prevented from doubling their lead before half-time by Dilo who made outstanding saves to deny McKenzie and Ashcroft.
Kilmarnock looked to maintain their momentum at the start of the second half and McAusland needed to be alert to nick the ball off the toes of Boyd inside the penalty area as he sought to add to his tally.
Yet for all of the admirable purpose of Kilmarnock’s play, their lead was a fragile one. St Mirren were not prepared to accept a secondary role in this latest instalment of the bottom six drama as they produced several threatening moments of their own. Ashcroft made a terrific block inside the penalty area to stop Thompson getting on the end of a dangerous Conor Newton cross. Killie goalkeeper Samson then dived full length to his left to keep out McLean’s sweetly struck free-kick from around 25 yards.
Kilmarnock continued to press forward and Jackson Irvine wasn’t far away from making it 2-0 with an overhead kick which flew narrowly over. Fowler’s dismissal for a second yellow card in the 87th minute ensured a nervous finale for the Kilmarnock fans but, after enduring three minutes of stoppage time, they were able to celebrate.
Kilmarnock: Samson, Barbour, Ashcroft, Maksimenko, Tesselaar; Fowler, Pascali; McKenzie (Nicholson 81), Eremenko, Irvine; Boyd (Muirhead 73). Subs not used: Reguero, Clingan, Johnston, Gros, Slater.
St Mirren: Dilo, Naismith, McGregor, McAusland, Kelly; Goodwin, Newton (Magennis 58); McLean; McGowan (Wylde 58), McGinn (Teale 77); Thompson. Subs not used: Kello, Van Zanten, Djemba Djemba, Campbell.