'You have to kill the chief, and Arbroath have been chiefs all season': Derek McInnes delighted as Kilmarnock win title cliffhanger
Relieved Derek McInnes says Kilmarnock did it the hard way in overturning Arbroath’s lead in the cinch Championship and at a packed Rugby Park to seal the league title with a match to spare.
James Craigen’s early goal looked to have given Dick Campbell’s part-time side pole position in the title race going into the last weekend of the season but two late goals from Ash Taylor and Blair Alston overturned the Lichties lead and ended their fairytale title bid.
For McInnes it was proof Kilmarnock were worthy winners, and they were pushed all the way for a home ground celebration savoured by a capacity home crowd of 10,000 Killie fans.
“There was pressure on us,” McInnes admitted, “the whole country outwith Kilmarnock seemed like they wanted Arbroath to win it and I get that, it’s a great story. They still might get there.
“But the best team wins the league and we are the best team, that’s a fact.
“We have had to do it the hard way. Our best opportunity was tonight.
“Normally you have to beat your closest competitors, you have to kill the chief. Arbroath have been the chiefs all season, they have been up there, terrific.
“When we came in Killie weren’t even looking convincing to be in the play-offs. But we have beaten Inverness here, Raith Rovers here and Partick here. It just left Arbroath and we needed to do it tonight.”
An enthralling game had the championship finely balanced and it swung in Arbroath’s favour early on, but the home side rallied after McInnes and his backroom team of Tony Docherty and Paul Sheerin intervened at the interval.
"At half-time tried to settle them down a bit. We came out and played and passed the ball. Even when the goal didn’t come we don’t going. That’s the sign of a good team.
“We were too anxious, too excitable in the first half. We asked the players to back themselves more after the break, have a bit of composure and I thought we dominated the start of the second half.
“There was a goal disallowed, a penalty claim, Gaston has made saves but the perseverance of the team was terrific.
“It was an onslaught in the second half, if I’m being honest. That’s when you feed off the crowd and you get the benefit of the crowd that turned up.
“It was important we had this. We’ve only ever won two titles and never at Rugby Park. It was important that the fans saw the team delivering tonight.”
McInnes now hopes to capitalise on the fans’ feelgood factor beyond the Championship win as they prepare for the Premiership next season.
“It was magic to see the place full. I think it was the biggest Killie support since the 90s. We could have sold a few more thousand if it wasn’t for restrictions on the away end.
“It shows what can be done here. We’ve a big summer ahead but these things can wait.
"I’m delighted for everyone, I felt a good connection with the board as soon as I spoke to them. We need a bit of stability and need to make sure we are the best version of our club possible in the Premiership next season.”
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