Premiership first round review: Kilmarnock

Josh Magennis battles for the ball against Celtic. Picture: PA
Josh Magennis battles for the ball against Celtic. Picture: PA
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THE best and worst of Kilmarnock’s season thus far following the first round of Premiership fixtures.

Best Player

There are several contenders here, but I’m going for the flashy option. Alexei Eremenko has been at his sparkling, defender confusing, YouTube compilation creating best. The range and vision of his passing remains remarkable and his composure in midfield sets the tone for the team. More importantly, he has been getting assists, and whilst fitness remains a slight issue the team are vastly improved when he is on the pitch. If nothing else, he’s a player that excites fans and provides entertainment, and that’s often a rarity in the Scottish Premiership.

Worst Player

The signing of Paul Cairney from Hibs was never one to get pulses racing but there was some hope we had acquired a decent utility man that could add some depth to the squad. Cairney can now only be seen playing for our Development League squad and, according to one recent report, “looking out of his depth at that level”. He has also made Eremenko look like Usain Bolt in terms of fitness and now isn’t even on the bench. Alan Johnston’s signings have been excellent this term, but this one is a throwback to the Kyle Jacobs and David Silvas of last year.

Biggest Surprise

It’s been a long time since Killie have had a reliable centre back and Mark Connolly has been fantastic this season. Reports of a disastrous loan at St Johnstone a few years ago had us worried and many questioned the decision to drop the promising Lee Ashcroft when Connolly arrived. His name must now be one of the first on the team sheet. Connolly has arguably been our most consistent player and has contributed match winning tackles and some very important goals. A feature of this season has been winning or drawing games that last year we would have lost and Connolly’s work in defence has been a huge part of that.

Biggest Disappointment

I’m going to share this between Michael Ngoo and Lee Miller. Both strikers have failed to displace Josh Magennis in the first team, and perhaps there can be no greater statement of disappointment than that. Miller has had injury problems but was given the number 9 shirt on arrival and seen as the replacement for Kris Boyd. He has looked decent coming on as a sub in a few games but his lack of involvement is slightly worrying. It’s much the same story for Ngoo who has made very little impact when given the chance to play. Time and injuries will give them a chance to shine, but for now the report card would read ‘must do better’.

Best Team Performance

Kilmarnock 2 – 0 Dundee United 03/10/14

This was a game that many fans looked at as being the real test of how far the team had come. A well fought win against St Mirren and a demolition of Partick had given us hope, but how would we fare against a really strong team? As a team performance it was the best I’ve seen in a long time. The system allowed Eremenko to feed balls into the wingers, Magennis worked tirelessly winning headers, the defence pressed and frustrated United and there was passing football with a touch of flair. A thoroughly deserved win against a United side that have looked streets ahead of us in recent years has left Killie with a weird and very unfamiliar sensation of positivity.

Worst Game

Kilmarnock 0 – 1 St Johnstone 23/09/14

After a bright start to the season, and a derby win against Ayr in the previous round, a cup run would have been the icing on the cake. It wasn’t to be, but it was as much the manner of the defeat as the cup exit that was disappointing here. With so much pace and potential in the squad this was a limp display and the loss came as a result of some horrific defending. It was the bad old days of last season with ineffectual long balls and no tempo to the play. Throw in a red card for Eremenko and questionably ruled out Killie goal and you have the perfect bad day at the office.

Most Worrying Contract

Scottish football scoffed when Killie offered Josh ‘the destroyer’ Magennis a three year deal – but we’ve got the last laugh. Magennis has led the line well and been a nuisance to defences all season. Arguably more athlete than footballer, his tireless play and physical presence has been really effective. Three years sounded like a long contract – but now surely only an Alan Pardew-style 8 year deal will do?

Manager’s Performance

Allan Johnston is the current Manager of the Month. That is a statement that might have been laughed at by Killie fans last season. After a dreadful first year, Johnston is finally finding his feet and proving some of the doubters wrong. Firstly, the team is now balanced and has a game-plan; Hamill and Clingan anchor the midfield, Eremenko has freedom and Obedayi and McKenzie are out and out wingers. Secondly, the signings, which were abysmal last year, have been excellent this season. Mark Connolly, Chris Chantler, Jamie Hamill, Tope Obadeyi and even, against all the odds, Josh Magennis, have been fantastic. There is positivity about the club now, perhaps helped by Gary Locke replacing the massively unpopular Sandy Clark, and AJ is starting to show some of the promise we saw at Queen of the South.

Written by @Mitch_Al for The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast website.