Kirk Broadfoot is, by some distance, the senior partner in a Kilmarnock back four which was transformed by former manager Steve Clarke from the Premiership’s most porous unit into one of its most effective when it came to repelling raiders.
Indeed, when Clarke was appointed as the successor to Alex McLeish as Scotland’s manager in May, he called up three of them – full-backs Stephen O’Donnell and Greg Taylor and centre-back Stuart Findlay – for national service for the Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Belgium and Cyprus.
Findlay was the only one of the trio not to play in either game but Broadfoot has no doubt that his partner will soon rectify that state of affairs, arguing that the 23-year-old has the potential to compete at the highest level for club and country.
He has certainly taken the road less travelled in order to reach his current status. Findlay signed professional forms with Celtic when he turned 17 but failed to break into the first team in his three seasons at Parkhead. Loan spells with Morton, Dumbarton and Kilmarnock at least provided him with game time during that spell before he joined Newcastle United on a Bosman in 2016.
His only appearance for the Magpies came in an FA Cup victory over Birmingham City and Lee McCulloch brought him back to Rugby Park on another loan in 2017, making his signing permanent once he was released by Newcastle the following year.
However, it was under Clarke that he blossomed into the player who has once again been attracting interest from clubs down south. Broadfoot is not surprised by the attention which has come Findlay’s way. “Stuart’s been great and he can only keep improving,” he said. “He has all the attributes required to be a successful central defender plus he also has a lot of pace, which most players in our position don’t possess. In terms of his positional sense and reading the game, he can also only get better.”
Findlay also scored the decisive, last-minute goal in last week’s 2-1 victory over Welsh Premier League side Connah’s Quay Nomads in Rhyl, a result which should make tonight’s Europa League second leg in Ayrshire a formality.
Manager Angelo Alessio, however, is refusing to take anything for granted and will name his strongest possible starting XI for the first qualifying round tie.
“It is important how we play,” said the Italian. “Our focus and mindset is always to play better than we did in the last match. We have great respect for Connah’s Quay. They are a solid team and they use their system very effectively.
“But, at the same time, my focus is on my own team. I know my players are ready for this game.”
Kilmarnock’s players were subjected to rough-house tactics by their rivals last week and Alessio anticipates a similarly agricultural approach from them in the return.
“We expect the same type of game,” he said. “They will try to do everything to win because they don’t have an alternative after the result last week.”