The Rugby Park side had to dig deep when right-back Daryl Westlake was booked twice in quick succession for fouls on Motherwell winger Marvin Johnson just before half-time, especially when Scott McDonald curled home the equaliser for Motherwell from the second of those free kicks.
Locke was disappointed with the decision by referee John Beaton, but expressed his pride at the reaction of his players as they restricted Motherwell to a minimum of chances in a battling second-half display. “I’ve got a player that’s made two challenges the whole game and ends up sitting in the stand, so I’m obviously disappointed, but the referee’s got a hard job and sometimes you just have to accept decisions and that’s what we have to do,” Locke said.
“I certainly felt with 11 players on the pitch we looked really positive and we were on the front foot most of the time, so I was just frustrated with the fact we’ve had to change things.
“Wee Chris [Johnston] has done really well the last four or five games and you end up having to sacrifice him.
“Obviously if we had kept 11 players on the pitch it might have been a case of getting three points, but sometimes things happen in a game and circumstances change. I couldn’t be happier with the performance of Kilmarnock. The boys were great.”
Kilmarnock are six points outside the top six with five games to play before the split. “It’s getting difficult because we’re running out of games, but I still believe we can get [into the top six],” added Locke.
The manager singled out goalkeeper Craig Samson for particular praise as he made some crucial saves after surviving an early penalty shout for a challenge on Motherwell winger Johnson.
“Craig’s a very good goalkeeper and he made a few good saves, that’s what he’s paid to do – keep the ball out of the net,” Locke said. “I was really pleased with the work-rate throughout the team. I thought defensively, not just the back four, but defending from the front we did great.
“Nathan [Eccleston] always looked dangerous, especially second half, and him and Josh [Magennis] linked up well in the first half, so there were a lot of pleasing performances. I’m just a little disappointed we couldn’t get three points.”
Locke gave a glowing assessment of his younger players, with home-grown talent making up a significant proportion of the Kilmarnock team in recent matches. “I’ve said it for weeks now that I don’t feel that Kilmarnock as a football club gets the credit they deserve for their young players,” he added. “Against Inverness there were seven or eight that have come through the academy and we’ve had a lot of players involved again today, so it’s brilliant to see and hopefully we can keep churning out cracking young players.”
A stunning strike by Tope Obadeyi gave Kilmarnock an early lead before Westlake’s red card paved the way for McDonald to equalise with his first goal since returning to Fir Park.
The home side had plenty of possession after the break but could not force a winner. However, manager Ian Baraclough was riled by the decision early in the match not to award his side a penalty when Johnson appeared to have been tripped by Samson. Referee Beaton instead opted to book the Motherwell winger for simulation. “I’ve spoken to the assessor and he said that he saw that there was contact made,” Baraclough said. “So I don’t quite understand why we’ve not received a penalty and why Marvin’s been booked for simulation. Contact was made, the goalkeeper’s smiling at the end of the game because he knows he’s got away with one, and you just hope that turns for you on another day.”
The draw moved Motherwell off the bottom at the expense of St Mirren, who didn’t have a game at the weekend. Baraclough was upbeat about his side’s performance, but he was disappointed they couldn’t make their extra man count after the break. “Overall it was very, very good,” Baraclough said.
“Second half I thought we stopped doing the things that got us into good positions first half. It can be perceived that it can be easier against ten men, but it’s only easy if you make it easy by moving the ball quicker and we didn’t second half. We made it difficult for ourselves. But first half was an excellent performance, we put it into areas that caused them problems, we put it into areas that were our strengths, wide areas. Marvin [Johnson] was putting in cross after cross, he tormented the full-back who eventually lost his head and got himself booked twice.
“We just needed that final belief to get on to the end of one of those balls, I don’t know how many chances we created but it was a lot and you expect to come away from it with a little bit more than what we did. It’s a step in the right direction and it’s a point closer to where we want to be, but there’s a bit of frustration that we dominated the game and didn’t capitalise on it.”
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