Gary Holt has emerged as the early favourite to replace Angelo Alessio as Kilmarnock manager after the Italian was sacked on Tuesday.
Just six months after Kilmarnock owner Billy Bowie hailed Alessio as the “best manager in Scotland” when the former Juventus and Chelsea coach was recruited as the replacement for Steve Clarke, the 54-year-old was abruptly dismissed by the Rugby Park club.
Alex Dyer, who remained as assistant manager after Clarke left to take charge of Scotland, will take temporary charge until a permanent successor is identified.
Livingston manager Holt, a former Kilmarnock player who was part of their Scottish Cup-winning side in 1997, is a leading contender.
In sharp contrast to the fanfare which greeted Alessio’s appointment in June, his departure was announced in a brusque 69-word statement.
“The Kilmarnock Football Club Limited can today announce that Angelo Alessio has been relieved of his position as manager,” it read.
“Everyone at the club would like to thank Angelo for his efforts during his time with Kilmarnock and we wish him every success for the future. Alex Dyer will take charge of first-team duties on an interim basis. We will provide a further update for supporters in due course.”
Alessio, who had been assistant manager to Antonio Conte for a decade at Siena, Juventus, Italy and Chelsea, turned down the opportunity to remain as his No 2 at Inter Milan this season in order to take the Kilmarnock job.
Following in the footsteps of Clarke, who led Killie to their highest league placing since 1966 when they finished third last season, was always going to be a tall order.
Alessio made the worst possible start as the Ayrshire club suffered a humiliating exit from the Europa League in their first qualifying round tie against Welsh part-timers Connah’s Quay Nomads. Despite winning the first leg 2-1 in Rhyl, Killie were left stunned by a 2-0 defeat in the return fixture at Rugby Park.
There were early rumblings of discontent among senior players at Alessio’s methods, although those rumours were dismissed at the time by captain Gary Dicker.
Kilmarnock found themselves at the bottom of the Premiership after taking just one point from their first three games and were then knocked out of the League Cup in a penalty shootout against Hibs in the quarter-finals.
When veteran defender Kirk Broadfoot terminated his contract at the club and joined St Mirren in September, he gave credence to the earlier suggestions of difficulties emerging under Alessio.
“Everyone expected change when Steve went and Angelo came in but it went from one extreme to the other,” said Broadfoot at the time.
“Angelo was big on shape and that seemed to be his big thing on the training pitch. We spent hours just doing shape and him walking us through drills.
“I know Alessio has worked at some top clubs with top players but I am not sure it was right for the guys we had at Kilmarnock. The majority of the players found it hard and I am not sure how many of them enjoy it.”
Alessio did enjoy an upturn in fortunes in October, even being named Manager of the Month as Kilmarnock won three games in a row to climb to third place in the Premiership.
But he was unable to sustain that kind of momentum and Killie have won just one of their last eight games, slipping back to fifth place in the table.
There was a change in the club’s backroom structure last month when former player James Fowler, most recently assistant manager to Jack Ross at Sunderland, returned to Rugby Park as head of football operations.
Alessio leaves Kilmarnock with an overall record of eight wins, five draws and nine defeats from his 22 games. His departure will not come cheaply as he signed a three-year contract when he arrived.
Dyer, who may be regarded as one of the contenders for the manager’s job on a permanent basis, will take charge for the first time on Saturday when Motherwell are the visitors to Rugby Park.
Killie’s remaining fixtures before the winter break are against Rangers at Ibrox on Boxing Day and St Mirren in Paisley on 29 December.