Kilmarnock goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald is optimistic that he can avoid an unwanted hat-trick of heartbreaks when he faces Falkirk in the first leg of the Premiership play-off final at the Championship club’s ground tonight.
Two years ago he was a member of the Hearts squad which, handicapped by a 15-point penalty for entering administration before a ball had been kicked, were relegated from the elite division.
In 2015 his campaign concluded when, with four minutes of the Scottish Cup final remaining and his Falkirk side drawing 1-1 with Inverness, he fumbled a tame shot by Marley Watkins, allowing James Vincent to notch the winner from the rebound.
However, the 30-year-old believes that he will finally be able to enjoy a stress-free summer by overcoming his former club over the two legs, even though Kilmarnock won only one of their last five fixtures, losing three of them.
“The main thing is that it’s in our own hands,” he said. “The last few weeks have probably been stressful more than anything for the boys.
“There was that bit of hope that we could have avoided the play-offs, but we also knew that a lot of it was outwith our own hands. I think, coming into these two games, we know it’s about what we do. It’s just up to us to perform.”
Falkirk’s fine form did not come as a surprise to MacDonald, who would have been cheering on the Bairns in these ties had Killie managed to secure a tenth-place finish.
“I fancied them to really push for promotion this year,” he said. “They had a fantastic team last year and they have added to that squad. They’ve been brilliant in that league when I’ve seen them and lost only four games.
“They’re dogged and keep going right to the end so we have to make sure we match that work rate and their spirit.
“There are a lot of good, skilful players in their dressing room. Having been involved in that team last year, I know how Peter Houston gets his teams organised and working for each other. Everybody can see Falkirk have done that this year.”
Kilmarnock is one of Scotland’s major unemployment black spots, a situation which will deteriorate further should the club be relegated from the top tier for the first time since 1981, with job losses at the club (and the hotel adjoining Rugby Park) likely.
With the guarantee of at least three home fixtures against Celtic and Rangers next season if survival can be achieved, the pressure is on the Ayrshire club to perform, but MacDonald insists that he and his team-mates must not only attempt to tap into the excitement generated by these meetings but also enjoy them.
“I think you have to try to, as much as you can,” he said. “These are maybe not the games you want to be involved in from our perspective because they are relegation play-offs but they are big games and, as a footballer, you want to be involved in big games.
“Falkirk is already sold out for Thursday. Hopefully, the fans will turn out here as well, we’ll get a big crowd and get everyone behind us. If you try and enjoy the game then you’ll probably end up doing better and won’t be uptight or nervous about it.”