Lee Clark, the Kilmarnock manager, laid blame firmly at the feet of Conrad Balatoni after the defender’s calamitous error brought a costly collapse in the Highlands. From a winning position, the ten-man Ayrshire side tossed the lead away to plunge deeper into trouble near the table’s foot.
The 25-year-old Englishman gifted Inverness Caley Thistle their equaliser with the clumsy pass-back that played in Ross Draper, forcing keeper Jamie MacDonald into a red-card foul on the midfielder.
Greg Tansey’s penalty was followed by further strikes from Draper himself and Danny Williams against the weakened visitors, all but assuring Inverness of Premiership safety but rendering Kilmarnock – 23 consecutive years a top-flight side – a club in crisis mode.
Events at Tannadice later in the day brought mixed news for Killie: they remain eight points clear of seemingly doomed Dundee United but are seven points adrift of tenth-placed Hamilton. Even at this stage, a place in the end-of-season play-offs looks likely.
Clark, unable to mask his disgust at the game-changing turn of events, said: “We got ourselves into a great position and threw it away. What did Conrad say after the game? There’s nothing he can say because it’s something that’s been talked about before.
“Hopefully he learns from it but if you keep making the same errors then you have to change the personnel.
“We talked about it at half-time. It was unnecessary to pass the ball back to the keeper because of where he was on the pitch.
“The red card and the penalty changed the game because there was nothing between the teams. We have to dust ourselves down. We had been looking at picking up all 15 points but there’s 12 left now and we have to get them.”
Just a few days after announcing £750,000 losses, Kilmarnock, in bright sunshine, were looking to lift the gloom and drive themselves closer to teams just above the 11th-place spot.
The live televised match threw up little in the way of genuine quality through a disjointed first half, but eventually the match caught fire as a spectacle.
There was finally a shot on target – from the hosts – after 31 minutes. Miles Storey strode into the box and laid the ball sideways to Williams, who cracked in a left-foot attempt which keeper MacDonald did well to dive at and turn for a corner.
A spell of sustained pressure failed to bring a home breakthrough, with Gary Warren’s shot knocked off the line by Julien Faubert and Draper sending a chance wide at the back post.
The opener, when it finally came, offered great hope for Kilmarnock just before the break. Killie tore forward, three-on-three with Caley Thistle’s rearguard backing off. Greg Kiltie twisted and turned towards the edge of the box but laid the ball back to Kallum Higginbotham, who sent a curling shot from just inside the left corner of the box past Owain Fon Williams inside his far post.
As the second half opened in similar fashion, it was initially difficult to see a route back for wasteful Inverness, but all that changed on the back of Balatoni’s terrible mistake. The Killie defender’s pass-back after 53 minutes was ridiculously misjudged and the alert Draper took a touch past keeper MacDonald who brought him crashing to earth.
MacDonald saw red and, with substitute goalkeeper Conor Brennan replacing the sacrificed Higginbotham, Tansey struck the penalty low into the bottom left-hand corner of the net.
Momentum naturally swung behind the hosts and they were in safe territory with two quick-fire goals inside four minutes.
After 73 minutes, Tansey’s corner was knocked down by Gary Warren and stuck into the roof of the net by the big, long leg of Draper.
Just under three minutes later, a Liam Polworth pass set up Danny Williams inside the left edge of the box for the sharpest of shots cut past the diving substitute keeper.
Even then, Kilmarnock fought on and Faubert was unlucky to crack the crossbar, before Boyd shot over on the rebound.
But the final whistle sounded, to leave the small group of travelling away fans with a troubled journey home.
INVERNESS CT: Fon Williams; Meekings, Warren, Devine, Tremarco; Draper, Tansey; Polworth, Vigurs (Mbuyi-Mutombo 73), D Williams; Storey. Subs not used: Esson, Raven, R Williams, Foran, Horner, Hughes.
KILMARNOCK: MacDonald; O’Hara,
Addison, Balatoni (Obadeyi 77), Hodson; Faubert, Dicker; Mackenzie, Higginbotham (Brennan 54), Kiltie (Ashcroft 77); Boyd. Subs not used: Findlay, Henshall, Taylor, Frizzell.