Kilmarnock ‘mental block’ worries Mark Connolly

Many of the travelling supporters who celebrated this victory were not born when Thistle last scored five times on the road in the top tier of Scottish football.

Mark Connolly was left embarrassed by his side's performance. Picture: SNS Group

The fact that it is 20 seasons since a victory over Hearts by the same scoreline on 23 March, 1996 speaks volumes about the quality of their own performance and the ineptitude of their opponents.

These are worrying times for Kilmarnock, who have won just four of their 18 matches against Premiership opposition at Rugby Park during 2015, losing on 12 occasions.

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Their display on Saturday rivalled those of the earlier 4-0 home defeats by Dundee and Ross County for incompetence and captain Mark Connolly admitted that the club’s top-flight status, unbroken since 1993, is now under threat.

“Of course there’s a concern because, if the team below us is beating us and going ahead of us in the table, then you need to address that,” he said.

“We now need to think about winning the Dundee United game [on Saturday] and nothing else. We can’t worry about teams below us but we need to start treating every game like a cup final.

“United are coming to Rugby Park and they will be fighting for their lives. We have to start rolling the sleeves up and working harder.”

They also need to defend more effectively. The marking was non-existent when Kris Doolan scored two early goals to put Thistle in the driving seat.

An impressive volley by Josh Magennis raised hopes of a revival, but it was back to business as usual when goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald palmed a Robbie Muirhead cross straight to Gary Fraser, who finished with aplomb. Muirhead underlined the Jags’ superiority with a a 35-yard missile and, although Connolly headed home a Steven Smith free-kick, Muirhead immediately struck again to seal the outcome.

“It was terrible,” said Connolly. “It was embarrassing. Every player on the pitch was not good enough, especially after last week against Celtic when we worked so hard and did so well [to draw 0-0].

“We nullified Celtic and reduced them to a few chances, which is not an easy job, and then – coming up against Partick Thistle, who were below us in the league – there were gaps all over the pitch. Nobody did their jobs and we gave them far too much time on the ball. It’s frustrating.”

Connolly also admitted that he and his team-mates have developed a mental block over playing in front of their own crowd, a problem which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“It has to change,” said Connolly. “I don’t know if boys are nervous playing at Rugby Park.

“We played in front of 40,000 plus at Celtic Park and got a result and then we play in front of 4,000 at home and get beat like that.

“This is our stomping ground and where we should be winning games. We should be on top of teams.

“We start games too slow and it is always a battle to get back into them. It shouldn’t be like that. We’re not pressing teams – instead, we’re switching off.

“No wonder the fans are booing us coming off that pitch. They don’t deserve to see what we dished up against Partick.”

Former Kilmarnock forward Muirhead, currently on loan at Firhill from Dundee United, hopes that his parent club can take advantage of Killie’s home discomfort this weekend.

“I keep in contact with most of the United boys and I wish them all the best before games,” said the 19-year-old. “I suppose they will be cursing me after this result but, first and foremost, I have to look after myself and I’m on loan to do a job for Partick Thistle.

“However, it’s obviously disappointing to see the boys down there. I haven’t spoken to Mixu Paatelainen but my agent has been keeping me informed and I’ll be going back to United when my contract with Thistle is up on 4 January.

“I could go back there having helped Thistle to safety and go straight into a relegation battle but that’s what happens in football.”