Kil­marnock full-back Ross Millen (left) is con­grat­u­lated by team-mates

The Herald on Sunday - - SPORT - BY NEIL CAMERON

ON Jan­uary 5, one of Scot­tish foot­ball’s old­est se­nior clubs will cel­e­brate its 150th bir t hday. Kil­marnock have made few bet­ter de­ci­sions since 1869 than em­ploy­ing Steve Clarke as their man­ager.

It’s worth re­call­ing that when he ar­rived at Rugby Park 13 months ago, an age­ing and ail­ing team were bot­tom of the Pre­mier­ship with­out a win. This morn­ing they sit third in the league, two points off lead­ers Hearts who they beat at Tynecas­tle, the first team to do so this sea­son.

“Ste­vie Clarke is here to stop 10 in a row,” sang the Kil­lie sup­port­ers who also cock­ily claimed their team would win the league. Okay, so they prob­a­bly won’t, but what times th­ese are for this Ayr­shire in­sti­tu­tion that went through some hard times not so long ago.

“We should have more points and we should be higher up the league,” said Clarke with a poker face. “I am prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit dis­ap­pointed with our points tally to be hon­est.

“But it is nice at this stage of the sea­son to be so far away from the bot­tom two and if we can pick up a lot more points over the next eight matches then maybe, if we do it prop­erly be­tween now and the win­ter break, we can think about mount­ing a se­ri­ous chal­lenge for the top six again.

“For a club like Kil­marnock that is al­ways the pri­or­ity. We have to get away from the bot­tom, then we have to try to ce­ment a top-six place. Af­ter that it is for the sup­port­ers to dream. Not for us.”

Kil­marnock’s win­ner came on 73 min­utes from right-back Ross Millen – mark­ing his Pre­mier­ship de­but with his first goal for a club he joined from Queen’s Park in the sum­mer.

It was a lovely mo­ment for him and the goal was typ­i­cal Kil­marnock in that it was very much a team ef­fort.

Greg Taylor did well down the left wing. He com­bined well with Mikael Nd­joli, the ball was squared to Chris Burke on the edge of the box who looked as if he would shoot him­self be­fore slip­ping the ball to Millen whose shot was well struck but should have been saved by Zdenek Zla­mal.

The 24-year-old was only play­ing be­cause Stephen O’Don­nell has in­jured his ham­string – mean­ing he won’t make the Scot­land games.

“You have to be pa­tient when you are un­der-study right-back to the Scot­land in­ter­na­tional,” said Clarke. “Ross has been very pa­tient wait­ing for his chance but he took it. He de­fended well and got for­ward to get us the all-im­por­tant goal.”

Hearts had their mo­ments as well. They should have scored. In­deed, there was more than enough quality on the Tynecas­tle pitch, and enough chances, for this game to pro­duce more than one goal. But that’s four games in which Craig Levein has not seen a goal scored by his team.

They are miss­ing too many play­ers, it’s that sim­ple. But the Hearts man­ager at least ex­pects Christophe Berra to be back in December and Steven Nai­smith to re­turn be­fore the win­ter break.

“I think it would be eas­ier to score goals if we had the play­ers out in the team – ev­ery­body knows that,” said Levein. “At the same time, we need peo­ple to step up and at times like this … put the ball in the back of the net.

“We’re miss­ing peo­ple with strength of char­ac­ter, who’ve done things in the past, dealt with cer­tain sit­u­a­tions and know how to deal with them. Our so­lu­tions just now are gen­er­ally younger play­ers who haven’t had the ex­pe­ri­ence and they’re not bat­tle hard­ened and ready to cope.”

Kil­marnock should have taken the lead af­ter 90 sec­onds when Nd­joli’s back-heel flick in mid­field found Aaron Tshi­bola. He in turn passed to Burke who had a ridicu­lous amount of space in which to bear down on Zla­mal.

Burke had time and a lot of the goal to aim at but still found the Hearts goal­keeper’s legs. It was more a bad miss than a good save.

Peter Hair­ing was a whisker away from a Hearts goal on 11 min­utes, his half-vol­ley skimmed the post and, later in the half, Craig Wighton put a shot into the Kil­lie side-net­ting.

Nd­joli impressed for the vis­i­tors and showed great pace and skill to take the ball on the half­way line, get past a few chal­lenges be­fore putting a shot just wide.

And, be­fore the break, Arnaud

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