Although a weekend of tantalising League Cup action may have temporarily distracted Scottish football fans from the league table, most would have returned to the Scottish Premiership with a surprised look when they found none other than Kilmarnock standing proud in second place.
Steve Clarke’s side may have hoped for all three points against Hamilton on Saturday, but a 1-1 draw was enough to put the Rugby Park side above Celtic and just five points behind Hearts. Yet, most importantly, it continued a run that has seen Kilmarnock drop just two points in their last five league games.
Indeed, Killie were a delightful surprise package last season for most neutrals, yet this time around Clarke & Co. have shown that they have absolutely no interest in being a mere flash in the pan or footnote in the annals of Scottish football history. Kilmarnock aren’t just matching their impressive form from last season – they’re surpassing it in almost every way.
Last season Kilmarnock finished fifth with 59 points from 38 games. That gave them an average points-per-game average of 1.55. Yet after 10 games in this season’s Premiership they’re currently averaging an incredible two points per match. And Clarke has done all of this whilst rebuilding his squad.
Impressively, the Killie boss has dropped last season’s Premiership top goalscorer, Kris Boyd, and instead turned to young forward, Eamonn Brophy, to partner on-loan playmaker Greg Stewart. And so far it has proved exceptionally constructive.
With an average of 0.57 goals per 90 minutes in the league this season, Brophy is only slightly behind Boyd’s impressive average of 0.64 from last season. But the young striker offers far more to the team as a whole due to his speed and ability to drift across the final third.
Similarly, this allows Stewart to link up with the 22-year-old Scot and chip in with his own, impressive average of 0.46 goals per 90 minutes in the league. Add to that Stewart’s 0.31 assists per 90 minutes in the division this season and you have a new, dynamic duo up front that can score and create goals with far more creativity. And that means more goals.
Last season Kilmarnock averaged 11.32 shots and 1.29 goals per game. In this current league campaign Clarke’s side are putting away 12.33 shot and 1.6 goals per game. And their average expected goals figure has also increased from 1.41 to 1.62 per game. Essentially, Clarke has dropped last season’s most impressive goalscorer and still managed to get his team to look even better in attack.
This continued improvement on the field is also evident in defence too. So far this season only Celtic can boast a more impressive average of fewest amount of shots fired towards their own goal per game than Kilmarnock. Whose own average has dropped significantly from last season’s 11.43 to just 7.76.
This is largely down to the fact that teams can’t get the ball anywhere near Jamie MacDonald in goals. When it comes to total interceptions in the league so far this season, Clarke’s side have no less than four representatives in Stephen O’Donnell (8th), Greg Taylor (16th), Alan Power (19th) and Stuart Findlay (29th).
Indeed, while Kilmarnock are scoring more goals at one end of the field, they also have a more resolute, defensive structure full of young, physical players that can execute Clarke’s extensive plans with precision. Which is why an already impressive defensive record from last season of 1.24 conceded goals per game has fallen to just 0.9 this time around.
Kilmarnock may not demand the same attention as the Glasgow giants or Edinburgh’s exciting duo, but at Rugby Park Clarke is quietly getting on with the job at hand. And while some may have already deemed them to be no more than last season’s surprise package, Kilmarnock look more resolute and determined than ever before to finish in the top half and cause further upset.
Source : HeraldScotland