Steve Clarke’s blue and white army
There is a feel-good factor returning to Kilmarnock Football Club and a lot of that is down to the former West Brom and Reading manager. There has been some great work done behind the scenes by the Killie staff as they try to connect with the community and make the club more progressive. Their work is helped when there is a totemic figure at the head of a team which is producing results.
Kenny Shiels was someone the fans could look up to. But since then there is a been a general malaise as the club have worked through Allan Johnston, Gary Locke, Lee Clark and Lee McCulloch. Now there is someone of substance, a manager who has worked with some of the best players in football and pitted his wits against the very best managers.
Clarke couldn’t have asked for a harder start to his career at Killie but his influence was instant as the team were organised and robust in draws with both sides of the Old Firm. Yet, what was most telling was the fact fans stayed behind to clap the team off despite a 3-0 defeat at home to Hibernian.
In his 11 league games in charge (discounting the 2-0 defeat of Partick Thistle), Killie have been outplayed once, a 3-1 defeat to Aberdeen which left Clarke fuming. Since then it has been four wins and a draw as the club jumped into the top six ahead of the 3pm kick-offs.
He has now made Rugby Park a more testing environment for away sides rather than the other way around, winning the last three at home.
For the first time in a long time Kilmarnock are upwardly mobile.
Another positive offshoot of Clarke’s arrival is the contacts and relationships he has built up. The Congolese international had effectively been sitting on the sofa after leaving Norwich City in the summer when he received the call from Clarke who had managed the player at West Brom.
Instantly he has slotted into the Killie midfield which had been a weak point, and what a difference he has made. Despite being short of match fitness, Mulumbu impressed Killie fans with his assured display in the 5-1 defeat of Partick Thistle, exiting after an hour. Since then he has played every minute.
Against Rangers he helped Clarke’s men dominate in the middle of the park and therefore control proceedings. He possesses all the qualities for a midfield general in Scotland. He is powerful, intelligent, strong and poised. With his ability to hold on to the ball under pressure he can attract a number of opposition players towards him before shifting the ball and giving team-mates more space to operate.
Sometimes players come up to the Scottish Premiership with a good CV and pedigree having performed in a ‘top league’ but then flopped. Mulumbu couldn’t be further from that,
• READ MORE: Kilmarnock 2 - 1 Rangers: How the players rated
No stopping Kris Boyd
No matter where he goes around the country, Boyd is often treated to the same slurs. And he eats it up ready to ram it back down the throats of the opposition fans when he inevitably nets.
In his second spell at Rugby Park Boyd was fantastic. He could play up front on his own, mobile enough to run the channels, hold the ball up and, of course, score. The third spell hasn’t been as prosperous. But that appears to be changing. Since arriving Clarke has extracted the best from the wily striker.
Wisely, Clarke has surrounded Boyd with legs. Eamonn Brophy and Boyd have struck up a fruitful partnership. Between them they have netted nine goals and provided four assists in the last five games.
The equalising goal was everything which is good about their partnership. Brophy spun and ran in behind before squaring for Boyd to finish. It wasn’t an easy finish for Boyd on his left, to control the ball past Wes Foderingham, keeping it down but he made it looks easy.
The second was pure instinct and took Kris Boyd onto 109 top-flight goals for the club, making him the joint-second highest in the club’s history.
Graeme Murty gave a strange post-match interview with BT Sport. The way he spoke about preventing Killie from building momentum, not giving away silly free-kicks and riding out pressure was akin to a manager of an underdog. The team selection, tactics and performance prior to that backed those comments up.
Without being disrespectful to Kilmarnock, you do not expect Rangers to line up with two full-backs on the left side of the pitch. On top of that, Rangers played a flat midfield four against Killie’s central three of Alan Power, Gary Dicker and the aforementioned Mulumbu. Jason Holt and Ross McCrorie simply couldn’t match the control, power and general ability of the Killie trio.
The goal, which was fine play, was scored against the run of play. Having appeared to survive an onslaught in the second half Murty made the mistake of not making a change and within a few minutes Killie were ahead with the equalising goal a shambles.
Ally McCoist said Rangers were soft. They are. On and off the pitch. Teams will look at the team sheet and simply shrug. There is nothing to fear, little to worry about.
Where are Rangers going?
Despite the club’s best efforts they won’t pull the wool over the fans’ eyes. They tried to do just that on Friday with their announcement of Graeme Murty as manager. Rightly so, the fans have great respect for Murty. He has carried out his role as interim manager in two spells with great dignity but he is not a long-term solution.
There is just so much uncertainty around the club, little direction.
The idea was to recruit a director of football then a manager. The opposite happened. Derek McInnes was the obvious target when the Pedro Caixinha era came to an early end as many predicted it would. Yet, all the club did was demonstrate their best quality: faffing about. Despite a vague holding statement there seemed little progress and when they did approach McInnes he said no leading to a petty, albeit amusing, statement.
Now the club have decided after many weeks that Murty is the man to lead them forward. Well, until the end of the season at least.
Murty spoke about director of football Mark Allen having the final say on recruitment. Now it is said that Murty will have final say despite him possibly not being in position long-term.
It is a complete mess. Fans will continue to turn up in numbers as that’s what they have done and continue to do. But disgruntlement will increase and pressure on the board will mount.