KILMARNOCK slipped to their first defeat of pre-season in a tightly-contested friendly against Barnsley, but there was plenty for the home support to be encouraged about on a night when several of their new recruits made a positive impression.
Manager Gary Locke named five of his summer signings –Stuart Findlay, Steven Smith, Scott Robinson, Kallum Higginbotham and Kris Boyd – in the starting line-up, while the other three – Jamie MacDonald, Lee McCulloch and Dale Carrick – began on the bench.
Barnsley, managed by former Rugby Park midfielder Lee Johnson, fielded a recent Scottish Premiership standout in the shape of Marley Watkins, and the former Inverness winger had the first real chance of the match in 14 minutes. However Craig Samson stood up well to Watkins’ low shot from 15 yards out.
The Yorkshire side were the more dangerous of the two early on, but Kilmarnock, with on-loan Celtic centre-back Findlay looking particularly impressive, were able to keep them at bay reasonably comfortably. Indeed, whenever the hosts got on the ball, they always looked to build from the back. It was from a crisp passing move in the 32nd minute that they got their first sight of goal, with Higginbotham flashing a powerful low shot just past the post from 25 yards.
Kilmarnock almost took the lead just before the break, but Josh Magennis’ powerful dipping shot from a Rory McKenzie cutback was deflected over.
The hosts started the second half on the front foot, with Boyd firing a 25-yard shot just over.
However, it was Barnsley who went ahead when Conor Wilkinson nodded in a George Smith cross in the 54th minute.
Kilmarnock almost responded instantly but Higginbotham rasped a powerful shot agonisingly wide from the edge of the box. Magennis then had a low strike deflected behind after latching on to a driven corner from Higginbotham.
Watkins seemed fortunate to stay on the pitch when he appeared to headbutt Jamie Hamill while the two tangled on the floor, but the Barnsley player escaped with a ticking off. The former Inverness forward almost added a second for his side in 75 minutes but Samson made an excellent save to deny him.
Substitute Carrick, who enlivened the Killie attack when he came on, went close to an equaliser but he was denied by an excellent save by Adam Davies.
Kilmarnock: Samson, Westlake, Smith, Ashcroft, Hamill, Robinson, Magennis, Higginbotham, McKenzie, Boyd. Subs: MacDonald, Barbour, O’Hara, McCulloch, Carrick, Kiltie, Hodge.
Barnsley: Davies, Bree, Roberts, Nyatanga, Smith, Pearson, Rothwell, Scowen, Phenix, Wilkinson, Watkins. Subs: Dibble, Mawson, Maris, Templeton, Johnson, Heckinbottom.