How Kilmarnock can send a title message with Derek McInnes bringing fans back on side

It is very rare to witness a crowd show unanimous support in defeat. A loss is so often met by disgruntlement, frustration and some good old pantomime booing.

Last weekend Rugby Park was different.

Kilmarnock had lost out in extra-time to Dundee United after a captivating 120 minutes of Scottish Cup football. Yet, after a slow and, at times, difficult start, the Killie faithful rallied, urging their team on and when the whistle blew on the encounter showed their appreciation of the team's efforts.

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It was only natural to draw comparisons to a moment very early in Steve Clarke’s tenure when the team were clapped off despite losing 3-0 to Hibs at Rugby Park. The Killie fans liked what they saw.

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)

It was the same on Saturday.

Killie played like a team who didn’t belong in the Championship, something which United boss Tam Courts noted in the aftermath.

"They are a Premiership club,” he said. “They've got a lot of top players. We gave them total respect.”

The reality is that they are a Championship team and they have turned to Derek McInnes to get them back to the top tier.

Kilmarnock midfielder Rory McKenzie. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)

After a win in his opening match at Queen of the South followed by a draw at Partick Thistle, the United cup game was his first fixture in front of a home crowd.

Rediscovering a connection

“It’s going to be huge going forward, especially at home,” he said about the support the team received.

“Everyone came to win the game, we didn’t manage to do that but the fans were there at the end and acknowledged the effort from the players. That’s quite something.”

As soon as McInnes arrived he spoke about rediscovering a connection between the team and supporters following relegation and then inconsistency under Tommy Wright in the second tier.

Through his words, his actions, the performance level and energy against United that connection is being rebuilt.

A big thing for McInnes has been the way the players have responded to his instructions, what he wants to do.

Rory McKenzie described the new manager, his backroom staff, the training and ideas as a "breath of fresh air”, saying it has been “thoroughly enjoyable” to work under him.

Against United, after the first 15-20 minutes, it looked like a team enjoying themselves again. The intensity of McInnes as well as Paul Sheerin and his right-hand man Tony Docherty on the sidelines transmitted onto the field.

“Did I think we’d be capable of that performance so soon when I arrived? I’m not so sure,” McInnes admitted. “That will do for me.”

Big weekend

It was a performance which suggested Kilmarnock are still favourites to win the Championship.

Arbroath have been the story of the season so far. What Dick Campbell has done at Gayfield is remarkable. They deservedly hold a three point lead over Inverness CT at the top of the table with Killie a point further back.

And it is third versus second this weekend in Ayrshire, while the Smokies take on Partick Thistle.

It is one of those weekends which could be a defining one in the Championship. A draw at Rugby Park with Arbroath winning would be absolutely huge for the part-time side.

For Kilmarnock, however, this is the opportunity to send a message to their Championship rivals.

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