Jig of delight that says ‘we are staying up’ after play-off escape
Clark pulls survival out of the bag as side overturns deficit with plenty to spare
LEE Clark, the Kilmarnock manager, has warned the club must use yesterday’s Ladbrokes Premiership play-off escape as a warning if they are to avoid a similar fate or worse next season.
The Rugby Park club finished the campaign 11th place and went into yesterday’s second leg 1-0 down following Thursday’s defeat at the Falkirk Stadium. Despite that backdrop, Clark’s team were stunning in front of 11,000 in Ayrshire to win 4-0 on the day and 4-1 on aggregate, ensuring Kilmarnock maintain a top-flight status that has stood for 23 years.
However, the Englishman insists the club must take stock after their narrow escape.
“I told the players to celebrate but it’s a little warning signal to everyone connected to the club,” said the Kilmarnock manager. “The club has been in and around this position for too long. If you keep doing that eventually you get found out and eventually the worst-case scenario happens. That has to be addressed and we have to move forward.
“You’ve got to be ruthless. I know where I want to go and we are making inroads on players as we speak.”
The scenes of celebration at full-time – including a pitch invasion of a few hundred Kilmarnock fans – was justified, with even Peter Houston, the Falkirk manager, unable to complain about the sad end to his team’s season.
“We have to learn,” he said.
SORRY Falkirk, there aren’t enough injury time minutes left this decade that will get you out of this one. Ten times this season the Championship club have struck beyond the 90-minute mark.
Four times in their last seven matches, no less. The latest example of their penchant for the dramatic occurred just three days prior to this Ladbrokes Premiership play-off second leg as Will Vaulks’ injury-time winner sent them to Rugby Park with a foot seemingly already in the top flight.
It was booted out within just three minutes yesterday. In an extraordinary and gripping game that could never ever be described as a contest, a Kilmarnock team that for much of the season looked as if they couldn’t beat an egg obliterated Falkirk’s resolve.
Ahead on the day and level on aggregate thanks to Greg Kiltie’s composed strike in the opening seconds, they were truly up and running on nine minutes when burly centre-half Miles Addison crashed home his team’s second.
In truth that probably would have been enough to deal with a Falkirk team that showed little of the creativity or nous that has earned them so much credit this season.
Nevertheless, Lee Clark’s team continued their dominance and eventually got the two further goals to complete the rout, Kiltie grabbing a second on 62 minutes before Kris Boyd tapped home his seventh goal of the season.
Huge credit for this recovery has to go to Clark. The passionate 43-year-old was brought to the club in February to take over a team in the eyes of many destined for the fate that eventually befell them.
Even going into yesterday’s second leg, the former Newcastle United player was unwavering in the belief that the group of players that shipped that late goal at the Falkirk Stadium could blow away their opponents here and maintain their top flight status.
Perhaps even Clark could not have expected this. There are no superstars among his number, but to a man they were head and shoulders above those in dark blue opposite them here. Even the enigmatic Tope Obadeyi was a triumph in the Kilmarnock sunshine with two assists, despite still giving the 7000 or so home supporters the odd gasp of exacerbation as he bounded down the left flank.
To say it was a disappointing end to the season for Falkirk would be something of an understatement. They carried a narrow lead to Rugby Park that even Houston himself said they were fortunate to get, but the wastefulness of their passing and nervousness of their play on Thursday was not a patch on their performance here. Outfought and outplayed by Kilmarnock, they failed to settle quickly in a raucous atmosphere and never recovered from the concession of the opener on three minutes.
Magennis burst to the byeline in a crowded box but was still able to draw the ball back to the unmarked Kiltie eight yards out, who took one touch before smashing the ball low underneath Danny Rogers.
Strike two was a great example of the same kind of inventiveness that Falkirk displayed on Thursday. Instead it was Kilmarnock’s turn as Magennis took a short throw in to fool the visiting defence.
The ball was picked up by Lee Hodson who was allowed space to cross deep to the back post for Obadeyi to head back across with Addison rushing in to a ruck of players before eventually bundling it over the line.
Despite a sclaffed Craig Sibbald short, Falkirk huffed and puffed during this game as they slowly started to creep back into the second half. However, any slim hope was wiped out just after the hour. A stray pass was picked up by Obadeyi, sending the Englishman on a lung-bursting run down the left. He beat full-back Aaron Muirhead with ease ahead of a cute cutback, allowing Kiltie to calmly drill the ball underneath Rogers just as he did on three minutes.
Three minutes later and the party could start. Magennis avaded a lunge from Lee Miller before rounding David McCracken before squaring to Boyd to tap in.
By the time the board went up for three minutes left, even the sight of Harry Houdini getting stripped in the Falkirk dug out would not have offered much hope to the 4,400 travelling fans who came to Ayrshire. They turned up, questions will be asked if those in their team did likewise.
PUTTING THE TIN LID ON IT: The Falkirk players look shellshocked as Greg Kiltie scores his second of the game