Kyle Lafferty quick off the mark as Kilmarnock overtake Inverness in Championship

Kyle Lafferty sent Kilmarnock second in the Championship and set up a top of the table showdown with Arbroath next Friday.

The returning striker restored his goalscoring form that included 13 goals in less than three months in his first spell, adding the matchwinner to take Derek McInnes' side above Inverness in the standings.

It was a goal worthy of winning the game, even after eight minutes, and Lafferty proved pivotal to the home side. “His presence troubles defenders and he's a great focal point for us,” McInnes said of his striker. “The finish was quality. He keeps his eye on it, nice and calm, and puts it away with his left foot and real quality and concentration. I’m so pleased with all their efforts.

“We would like to have more control in these games but it is all about the winning. At 1-0 up we will be better again so we are learning as we are going along. It was 10/10 for effort.”

Kyle Lafferty celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0 during a cinch Championship match between Kilmarnock and Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Rugby Park, on January 29, 2022, in Kilmarnock, Scotland. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)

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Sharp and rapid, the opener was incisive football at its clinical best. Daniel Mackay won the ball and zipped by left-back Cameron Harper, evading the near-side assistant as he hit the by-line. A slick low cross was met perfectly by Lafferty for his returning goal and Rugby Park embraced the forward’s return.

"We are a team who look like we are not used to winning at home,” McInnes added. “The fans got behind the team and were a proper home support. I was grateful, because they see the willingness of the team and we had some good moments in that first-half.”

Mackay was amongst many of them and made trouble for his old side, forcing Robbie Deas into a foul, and a caution, after just 67 seconds. His speed seemed the antithesis of Kilmarnock’s pedestrian first half to the season under Tommy Wright which wobbled in the corresponding fixture back in August that went the way of the visitors.

This one didn’t and Kilmarnock, under McInnes, are a different beast.

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Kilmarnock's Daniel Mackay impressed against former side Inverness Caledonian Thistle. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)

The goal was slick, but sometimes they were just too quick, even for themselves. A fast-thinking stab through from Lafferty on 26 minutes after Zach Hemming’s clearance to Rory McKenzie had been repelled by Harper caught the Killie man offside without him breaking stride for the second ball.

Lafferty was central, but it would be unfair to say Killie were solely reliant on the Northern Irishman with the likes of Mackay, Fraser Murray and Rory McKenzie in support.

With the striker off for treatment they had the ball in the net when substitute Euan Murray mishit Fraser’s free-kick past Mark Ridgers, but while the goal music blared, the unorthodox strike was ruled out for offside.

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The home goal hero was eventually replaced by Chris Burke and the winger teed up Oli Shaw with 20 minutes left, but his drive was blocked by Deas and the rebound scuffed wide.

Billy Dodds pitched in new signing Austin Samuels in search of a point but his only chance was snuffed out by Hemming and late on Joe Hardy rounded the goalkeeper but fired wide.

Dodds said: “We needed to match Killie’s energy. Two or three are letting us down and need to stand up and be men. We pushed to get the equaliser but it wasn’t to be.”

Kilmarnock: Hemming, Hodson, Sanders (E.Murray 46), Taylor, Haunstrup, McKenzie, Tait (McGinn 88), F.Murray, Mackay (Alston 74), Shaw, Lafferty (Burke 67).

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ICT: Ridgers, Duffy (Carson 82), Broadfoot, Deas, Harper (Nicholson 82), Welsh, McAlear, Walsh (Hardy 46), Pearson (Samuels 63), Chalmers, Sutherland (Duku 87).

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