First Kilmarnock win eases strain on Gary Locke

WHATEVER Gary Locke may lack as a manager, one thing he has in full is the widespread support of those within the Kilmarnock dressing room.

Kallum Higginbotham holds off the challenge of Aaron Kuhl at Tannadice. Picture: SNS
Kallum Higginbotham holds off the challenge of Aaron Kuhl at Tannadice. Picture: SNS
Kallum Higginbotham holds off the challenge of Aaron Kuhl at Tannadice. Picture: SNS

That much was made abundantly clear following their first win of the season, relieving some of the strain which had been mounting on Locke, the former Hearts manager, who is learning his managerial trade the hard way.

A spectacular strike by Kevin McHattie, their recent signing from Tynecastle, coupled with some breathtaking goalkeeping by Jamie MacDonald, meant the Ayrshire club left Tayside with a much-needed boost after Billy McKay’s 66th-minute penalty for United had cancelled out Kallum Higginbotham’s 44th-minute opener to make the visitors sweat for the points.

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It’s precisely what Locke had been crying out for ever since this season got underway with a 4-0 thrashing at home to Dundee. Until Saturday, Kilmarnock had been languishing ominously at the foot of the Premiership.

Having helped Killie avoid relegation last season after he replaced Allan Johnston in February, it must have felt to their manager as if there was no end in sight to their troubles.

Perhaps that’s why MacDonald, who defied United winger Ryan Dow with a memorable 83rd minute save prior to McHattie’s decisive strike, dedicated their Tannadice triumph to Locke after taking some of the heat off him.

“It’s been very tough for him,” said MacDonald after his own heroics had helped them to three points. “The end of last season has kind of continued into this season. That’s what’s frustrating for the players.

“In training, everybody enjoys it. Every­body likes working with the gaffer. Everything seems OK in training, but on Saturdays, it has not really been working for us.

“So to get those first three points, especially for the gaffer… we just need to make sure we can carry on.

“We’ve a few home games next in the league and we’re hoping to take three points from them.

“You could see here that everybody’s working their b**** off for the gaffer. They want to do well for the gaffer. We all like the gaffer.

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“We know that a couple more bad results and it’s not looking good, but hopefully this win can start pushing us up the table and we can start winning more games.”

Early results suggested another dreaded basement battle loomed, but MacDonald believes these long-awaited three points can signal much better times ahead.

“It’s a massive win,” said MacDonald. “We’ve been wanting to get that first win for seven games.

“Overall, there have been a couple of horrendous games from us this season but there have been a couple of not bad ones.

“Today, an accumulation of things clicked. Hopefully now we can take confidence and start climbing up the table.”

Meanwhile, Billy McKay has called on Dundee United fans to rally behind the club in their attempt to stop their losing streak.

They turned up in their droves in the hope of seeing a performance in honour of club legend Ralph Milne who passed away the previous Sunday.

What they didn’t expect, was to see a fourth successive league defeat, prompting a small section turning on Jackie McNamara, their manager, at the end.

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But on-loan Wigan striker McKay has assured their loyal supporters they will turn the corner with help from the stands, starting with this weekend’s visit of Inverness.

“It is important that the fans stick by us,” urged McKay. “Obviously the result is against us – but they can’t really go away unhappy with how we’ve played, can they?

“It’s just the final shot, the final finish, that’s missing. But, if we’d got the second goal against Kilmarnock, we would have scored four or five.

“If they keep creating, I’m going to score goals – and we’re going to climb that table.

“I know they’d lost a few players but, when I look at the young players here, they’ve got the potential to be very, very good.

“You see some of the kids not even on the pitch, I’ve seen them training, they’re something else.

“The results aren’t good but the future here is bright.”