Kilmarnock 0-2 Ross County: Winning start for Owen Coyle
Owen Coyle hit the ground running in his Ross County debut while Lee McCulloch plunged deeper into despair as his side remained rooted to the foot of the Premiership table, without a win in nine games.
There was a sense here that Kilmarnock’s supporters have had enough; enough of an abysmal home record (since installing their artificial surface two years ago their win ratio against top-tier opposition is an appalling 17.39 per cent) and, increasingly, enough of what they regard as the attritional football under McCulloch.
A section of the support called for McCulloch to go at half-time and full-time and, while he won’t oblige them, he understands their frustration.
“The way the team played I can sympathise with the fans,” he said. “They weren’t as bad as I thought they should have been after that performance.
“I know they are hurting. I’m hurting and I want to turn this around; I won’t be giving up.
“The game is ruthless. There is a frustration in me and I had to unload because there is too much at stake, too many jobs at risk for players to be going through the motions.
“I can’t put my name to that first-half performance. That was embarrassing. “
The visitors squandered the first opening of the afternoon in the 12th minute when Michael Gardyne’s free-kick found Andrew Davies unmarked 15 yards out but the captain’s header lacked both conviction and accuracy.
Kilmarnock responded when Adam Frizzell seized on a slack pass from Davies to fire a 25-yarder inches over Scott Fox’s crossbar.
Jamie MacDonald made the first save of the afternoon midway through the opening period when he threw himself to his left to turn behind a fierce shot from Gardyne.
To the chagrin of a seemingly permanently disgruntled home crowd, County dominated possession to an embarrassing extent and it was no surprise when they made the breakthrough.
Davis Keillor-Dunn’s inviting cross was met by Craig Curran, who stole between Gordon Greer and Stuart Findlay to beat MacDonald with a firm, downward header.
Their lead was doubled a minute from the interval. Kenny Van der Veg shimmied past the static Greer, supplied Curran and, when the striker’s shot was blocked, the Dutchman, who had continued his run unchallenged, drove the loose ball behind the goalkeeper.
McCulloch replaced holding midfielder Calum Waters with veteran striker Kris Boyd at the break and he summed up Killie’s afternoon, heading wastefully over from six yards from Jordan Jones’ corner.
Coyle was delighted with the result and the performance. “We started on Thursday so we had only two sessions but the training was of a high standard,” he said.
“They certainly grasped a lot of the things we asked them to do. There’s a good work ethic here and we dictated the play.”
McCulloch kept his players locked in the dressing room for an hour after the final whistle, delivering some unpalatable home truths.
“We need to get back to doing the ugly side of the game,” he said. “I can’t remember a tackle going in, we spoke about it all week adding some agression to our team, yet we were nowhere in 50-50s and one or two even jumping out of them.
“It’s worrying and I’m disappointed. There has to be a nastiness in our team; we’re too nice. We’re happy to walk about with a swagger with the toilet bag under the arm and look the part but not be the part by doing the ugly and nasty things. We’re not being ruthless enough.”