Scottish Daily Mail
THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA
Killie respond to the wake-up call from early riser McInnes
DEREK McINNES was up and out of bed long before the sun peeked over the horizon. It’s a familiar ritual, but recently his body clock had been the only thing demanding he manoeuvre quietly through his Renfrewshire home.
Saturday morning was different. For the first time since leaving Aberdeen ten months ago, McInnes had a knot of competitive excitement providing a dawn chorus. A return to the technical area beckoned. And it proved a happy one.
‘I’m always up early anyway, I’m institutionalised that way,’ he grinned. ‘Even though I did nothing the last wee while at times,
I was always up at the back of six. Even a day off, I can’t seem to overcome that.
‘Everyone was sleeping when I left this morning, so there were no other dramas in the McInnes’ house.
‘I couldn’t wait to get here. Physically, it feels a wee bit different when you wake up and know it’s game day.
‘I was really looking forward to the game and I’m obviously looking forward to getting back now after winning. Because that feeling at a quarter to five is why we’re in the game.’
The smile was surely still in place when McInnes walked back through his front door. A debut day in charge of Kilmarnock could hardly have gone much better. Their 2-0 win over Queen of the South in Dumfries was richly deserved, thanks in the main to a high-energy first-half performance blessed with no little fluidity.
Not only that, but all of their Championship promotion rivals dropped points.
If McInnes makes it two wins out of two against Partick Thistle on Friday night, Killie will be top of the table. At least until the following day’s fixtures.
‘I think we just need to try and deal with the next game in hand and see where it takes us,’ the 50-year-old stressed. ‘We know it’s important to keep building confidence.
‘Sometimes January can be an uncertain month for teams and players, because it’s when agents are more alive and clubs are asking the question.
‘I think it’s important we really focus on our performance. If we do that, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win at Firhill.
‘But I’ve seen Partick this season and, to me, they are well equipped to win a league themselves. They are a good side, they’ve got a lot of experience and a front two that can cause all sorts of problems.
‘The reference for me is today’s first-half performance. If we can replicate some more like that, then hopefully we’ll get enough wins to get the job done.’ They will also need plenty more victories on plastic pitches to follow this one. Firhill may have a grass surface but Rugby Park obviously doesn’t. McInnes will take charge of his first home game with Kilmarnock a week on Saturday, when Dundee United visit for a Scottish Cup fourth-round tie.
He was never particularly keen on Astroturf during his time at Aberdeen, yet that opinion certainly wasn’t formed by bad results. His record at Rugby Park was outstanding. McInnes won 13 of his 15 visits with the Dons — including a couple of cup ties that went beyond 90 minutes — and drew the other two games.
Kilmarnock will dearly hope his dominance of the venue can continue. Under Tommy Wright, they won just four of nine Championship engagements on their own fake grass — and the last success came in October.
Asked if he had ever lost at his new professional home, McInnes said: ‘As a player, yes. I don’t think so as a manager. The board were saying to me they ran us close a few times…
‘Sometimes that’s just the way against teams. What I do remember was that it was never easy or straightforward. We want to be a strong home team. There’s no team won a title with how the home record is at the minute. It’s an obvious thing we have to try and change, but I’m pleased with what we’ve had from the players so far.
‘Hopefully we go into the next game feeling a wee bit surer of ourselves to try and get another three points.’
McInnes insists he has no issues about operating on plastic in his new environment — whether home or away.
‘The players are used to it,’ he continued. ‘There are different challenges to win a league and different things you need to
overcome. The important thing for us is to concentrate on our level of performance. You have to try to adapt to the situation, whether it’s the pitch conditions or whatever. You need to find ways to win.
‘I respect the league and I respect the opponents. We are in this division because of us. It’s not because we shouldn’t be here. There is no criticism at all.’
Nor was there much fault picked with a first outing for the players he has inherited. Kilmarnock’s performance dipped a little at the start of the second half, but they should have been out of sight by then after creating numerous chances before the break.
It took until the 43rd minute for a breakthrough to arrive. Chris Burke’s floated corner was headed off the post by Oli Shaw, with captain Chris Stokes reacting quickest to knock the ball into the net.
The one disappointment for McInnes came when Scott Robinson succumbed to a heel injury before the hour mark and had to be replaced by Callum Hendry.
Robinson had been impressive up front, albeit that he spurned one of the first-half opportunities.
Queen of the South ended without a shot on target, yet were still aggrieved at the manner in which their drop to ninth place was confirmed. Roberto Nditi’s pull on Shaw was clear, but appeared to be outside the box. However, referee Colin Steven pointed to the spot and Shaw sent Josh Rae the wrong way with a clinical conversion.
Under early riser McInnes, you sense Kilmarnock are on an upwards trajectory once again.