Time to kick on
We welcome Kilmarnock to the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium this Saturday for a 3:00pm kick off with both clubs sitting on nine points, so it's an opportunity for one of these clubs to climb into the top-six with a win as there is only one other match on Saturday, Partick at home to Ross County.
The clubs had contrasting fortunes last time out. We lost our five game unbeaten run, going down 1-0 to the Rangers, courtesy of a stunning strike from Kenny Miller. Kilmarnock steadied the ship after a run of six games without a win by beating St Johnstone 1-0 in Perth, an excellent result given the mediocre results of the previous six games. They did however manage a 1-1 draw against the Rangers during that spell, but were also hammered by Celtic and Aberdeen. It's a topsy turvy league with every team capable of performing well on the day making it difficult to predict any outcome. But, It's time to kick on now, and try to create the gap that will ensure safety for another season.
Our opponents made sweeping changes in the close season. Lee Clark removed eight defenders from his inherited squad in a bid to resolve his defensive frailties, and Lee McCulloch retired from playing. In came defenders Dapo Kayode (Dinamo Bucharesti), Jamie Cobain (Newcastle United), Joshua Webb (Aston Villa), Jonathan Burn (Middlesborough), Luke Hendrie (Burnley), William Boyle (Huddersfield) and Scott Boyd from our neighbours Ross County. Midfield has also been revamped with Callum McFadzean (Sheffield United), Martin Smith (Sunderland), Jordan Jones (Middlesborough), George Green (Burnley), Charlee Adams (Birmingham City). Forwards coming in are Flo Bojaj (Huddersfield), Nathan Tyson (Doncaster Rovers) and the young man who has made the biggest impact Souleymane Coulibaly, an Ivory coast u17 international. The most notable players making way for these guys are Irish international Josh Magennis (Charlton Athletic), Tope Obadeyi (Dundee United), journeyman Kallum Higginbotham, Craig Slater (Colchester United) and Mark O'Hara (Dundee). Conrad Balatoni, Lee Ashcroft, Kevin McHattie and Jamie Hamill have all dropped down to the Scottish Championship.
Add to that a bit of boardroom unrest and it's an unsettling time to be a Killie fan. Michael Johnston appears to be the reason that Russel Smith has stepped down as one of the directors at Rugby Park.
So, big changes at Rugby Park, but manager Lee Clark has kept a strong backbone to his squad, starting at the back with keeper Jamie MacDonald and up front he can still call on the experience of Kris Boyd.
Killie were expected to be one of the sides that would have their hands full trying to avoid relegation, along with us. Those predictions looked ominous when we lost our first three games. Killie won one of their first three followed by three draws and two defeats before winning at Perth. It's early days but both clubs need to find a level of consistency to be able to climb the table. That has proved difficult with teams still finding their feet and positive results hard to come by.
Richie Foran thought we played well last week and could have taken more from the game. "We just lacked that wee bit of quality in front of goal. I think it's our best performance over the last six games. I knew we'd get chances. Bringing Jake Mulraney and Aaron Doran on can turn a game for you and I thought they might have nicked us a goal".
To be honest, we were second best in a first half dominated by Rangers after Lonsana Doumbouya missed a great opportunity as early as the third minute. It did however take a goal of the month strike from Kenny Miller to separate the sides as we fought back in the second period and fell just short as we failed to capitalise on the three or four half chances that came our way. We have played better, but we have also played much worse. We gave Rangers too much freedom in the first half which saw us chasing shadows. I doubt we will offer Kilmarnock the same respect and sit off them in the same manner.
It could be time for the luxury that is Iain Vigurs to feel the bench as he has been posted missing for long spells during games, occasionally surfacing to show a touch of class, but just as likely to display a cynical side to his game that we can do without. Liam Polworth would benefit from this by moving more central where we get the best out of him. Jake Mulraney and Aaron Doran made their cases clear for a start as they livened the game up last week after their introduction. Billy King was rather subdued last week and maybe a rest will be good for him. He will be missing for the Hearts game next week anyway, so Foran will need to shape his side without him.
We missed Josh Meekings last week due to a hamstring injury. David Raven stepped back into his right back role with Brad Mckay moving inside. It's the midfield where the problems start with Tansey supposedly pulling the strings. We do drift out of games and seldom seem to dominate the middle area which is odd considering the physical presence we have in there with Ross Draper being prominent every week. It's the use of Polly that is open to criticism and the inclusion of Vigurs that raises most eyebrows. The next quandary is who is our best striker. None are prolific and both Fisher and Doumbouya had glaring misses last week whilst Scott Boden appears to be out of favour. Lot's of choices for Richie the Rookie, rather him than me. By the way, Kevin McNaughton has had his protective boot removed and has discarded his crutches, so some positive news for Kev in his long road back to fitness. Larnell Cole is doubtful with an injury.
Killie will be without Johnny Burn who has a broken nose, but Kris Boyd and Steven Smith should return to the squad. However, midfielders Greg Kiltie and Callum McFadzean are out injured.
tm4tj Prediction:- Both sides looking to climb up the table and both capable of producing the goods on the day. Historically we have been getting the better of Killie in the Highlands, one defeat in fifteen, and we should be able to have a go at them easier than we did against the Rangers. Souleymane Coulibaly is an exceptional talent and he has scored some spectacular goals already since his arrival. He is definitely one to watch and we will need to keep our focus at the back if we want to keep him out. We might just sneak this one, but a draw is not beyond the bounds of possibility. I find it difficult to see anything better for Killie.
Former Inverness manager and Hearts legend John Robertson, 52, has been rushed to hospital yesterday (Thursday) after falling down a flight of stairs at Tynecastle. It is understood that Robbo has been treated for broken ribs and is recovering in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. All the best for a speedy recovery Robbo.