The sharp contrast in fortunes experienced by Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock yesterday was matched by the country mile of a difference in how these two teams managed a perilous situation. The Rugby Park side were simply awful in suffering the defeat that condemns them to play-off against either Falkirk or Hibernian. Indeed, on the basis of their ineptitude, their picking apart by Partick could be the prelude to being picked off by whatever Championship side are ranged against them.
The relegation that is staring the Ayrshire club in the face is now no longer a concern for Alan Archibald’s side. The visitors looked much more like the team that came within a win of the top six than the hapless team beaten 4-1 by Inverness Caledonian Thistle last Saturday. What happened to the Kilmarnock side that had cuffed Hamilton 4-0 on their own patch the same day was the question not a soul could answer.
Kilmarnock keeper Jamie MacDonald – beaten by a sweet edge-of-the-box hit from Jamie Lawless and an imperious finish from Kris Doolan after he raced on to a ball over the top – believes his team must face up to uncomfortable truths before the club’s 23-year residence in the top flight goes on the line in the two-legged Premiership play-off final.
“When I look around the dressing-room at the squad we’ve got, I can’t believe we’re in this position,” MacDonald said. “When I joined in the summer, I had big expectations to finish in the top six. We should have been more than capable.
“I’ve still got confidence that we can get through the play-offs because we have some quality players here. But we know what relegation might mean for the club. It’s about what happens behind the scenes – people losing their jobs who work hard outwith the football side. It doesn’t just affect the players and fans, it’s a community thing.
“So we need to latch on to just how important the play-offs are. There’s no point pretending they’re not big games. We have to give everything in these games.
“We’ve never hit a consistent run of good form,” he said, the club having failed to win back-to-back league games since October. “We’ll get a good result and you think we’ve turned the corner. But then we don’t perform to our ability in the next one. That’s why we are where we are. We deserve to be second bottom.”
Kilmarnock manager Lee Clark sought to exude calmness in the face of adversity. It was possible to wonder if he fully recognised the gravity of the situation. In fairness to the Geordie, he did not make excuses despite the failure of Andrew Dallas to award a penalty for a shirt tug on Kris Boyd at 0-0.
“It’s a clear shirt pull,” he said. “You can see that from the stand. But I’m certainly not blaming the ref for the result. It’s a disappointing day for everyone but we’ve got to go again.
“We look forward to the challenge [of the play-offs] and be positive. I know it’s in the players. Whoever we face, we go in fighting.”
For the redoubtable Alan Archibald, this was another feather in his cap in the week he agreed a new three-year deal.
His team played smart football, did “brilliantly” to handle a situation that could have seen them dragged into a play-off scrap in the final two games.
Four straight seasons in the top flight is the reward but any delight over that was tinged by irritation over how high the Maryhill side could have finished had they not taken nine games to post a Premiership win this season.
“It doesn’t feel satisfying just now but it will looking back over the season,” he said.
It should, because Archibald keeps working minor miracles.