They rolled out a green carpet in the shape of the new artificial playing surface to greet the return of Premiership football at the Tony Macaroni Arena but this grinding stalemate suggested it will take many sides, not least Livingston, a while to get to grips with the way this particular pitch plays.
The game started promisingly and descended from there but given the shock of the new underfoot, both sides were happy to take something from it in the end. For Livingston, getting their first point under their belts after promotion will be significant for confidence, while Kilmarnock maintain their long-running momentum since Stevie Clarke’s arrival. Just don’t ask about the entertainment value.
Livi player-manager Kenny Miller understandably sought to dwell on the positives for his side. “I thought in the first half in particular we were the better team,” he insisted, “The second was maybe more of a 50:50, but I really felt we were more than competitive and that’s got to give the lads a real belief.
“We’ve got to use the new pitch to our advantage. We’re going to be on it every day, we’ll get used to it. It felt ok. I think it will change over the coming weeks. We’ve only been on it this week, it should bed in but that might take two, three, four weeks.”
As well as being Livingston’s first home game in the top tier for over a decade, the debut for the surface certainly lent this encounter a different dimension. It was, as would be expected, invitingly pristine in appearance though the spray of rubber pellets as both players and the ball raced across the surface will have done little to convert the grass traditionalists. As for the football purists, many were averting their gaze from a spectacle light on incident.
Setting the pitch to one side there was still something very familiar about the manner in which Livingston approached this game. Just as their ascent through the divisions was powered by a high work rate and an ability to pressurise opponents into giving up possession or set pieces, so the formula was faithfully applied again today.
In a high tempo and fully committed opening 45 minutes the West Lothian side had the better of the play which in itself was no mean accomplishment considering how Kilmarnock have been motoring under Clarke. Steven Lawless tested Jamie MacDonald with a low drive in the early stages as the hosts set about their task with customary alacrity.
Killie though, while stretched on occasion, generally held firm and gradually managed to get the incisive Jordan Jones more involved in proceedings. The Northern Irishman was instrumental in fashioning the outstanding opening of the game as he delivered a telling low cross which Chris Burke met sweetly only to see it cannon off the post with Liam Kelly stranded.
Hopes that we might see a bit more creativity and goalmouth action after the interval were slowly ground down as the game became a contest of attrition. The visitors did close the stronger, and Kelly was required to stir himself after Burke ran clear on a rare occasion but well struck though Stephen O’Donnell’s ensuing shot was, it flew straight at the goalkeeper. Substitutes Iain Jones and Greg Kiltie also had chances to secure all three points for the Ayrshire men but neither applied enough conviction to their efforts.
“We knew it would be a tough game, but we came through it,” reflected Clarke. “The pitch is the pitch. We dealt with it, Livingston dealt with it. We just got on with the game and tried our best to win it.”