Where it all went wrong for Kilmarnock as 28-year Premiership stay ends

Kilmarnock have been relegated after 28 years in Scotland's top flight (PA Wire)
11:59am, Tue 25 May 2021
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Kilmarnock find themselves heading back to Scotland’s second tier for the first time since 1993 after defeat to Dundee in the Premiership play-off final.

It is a bitter blow for Tommy Wright’s team but this is the culmination of a two-year slide.

Here the PA news agency takes a look at where it all went wrong for the Rugby Park outfit.

Great expectations

Under Steve Clarke, Killie enjoyed a brief golden era. His 18-month stint in charge saw the club climb to a third-place Premiership finish – their highest league result in 53 years – and qualification for the Europa League in 2019. But it also sent expectations soaring. The club even opted to slash in half the ticket allocation it gave to Old Firm fans visiting Rugby Park as they looked to draw local supporters back through the turnstiles. But that new-found self assuredness would later come back to bite club owner Billy Bowie.

Fallen Angelo

Angelo Alessio was axed amid rumours of discontent in the Killie squad (PA Archive)

The decision to appoint Antonio Conte’s former right-hand man Angelo Alessio following Clarke’s departure to take up the Scotland job looked like a bold, ambitious move by Bowie. But it immediately backfired as their first European campaign in 18 years ended with a humiliating defeat to Welsh minnows Connah’s Quay Nomads. Alessio lasted just 22 games before he was axed amid rumours of discontent with his methods amongst the playing squad. Killie were fifth at the time of his dismissal in December 2019 but the appointment of Clarke’s former number two Alex Dyer could not halt the club’s downward trajectory.

Glove affairs

Jamie MacDonald was given a Scotland call-up but shunned by Alessio (PA Archive)

Goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald was in the form of his life when he was handed a first Scotland call-up in November 2018 but the appointment of Alessio seven months later saw him shunned. While the 35-year-old continues to shine for new club Raith Rovers – even being named the Fifers’ player of the year – his old club have gone through a raft of number ones without finding a safe pair of hands. Former Juventus man Laurentiu Branescu filled the gloves last term but hardly stood out while Danny Rogers and Colin Doyle have both looked shaky this term.

The Wright approach

Bowie pinned his hopes on appointing Tommy Wright back in February as he sought to salvage his club’s 28-year run in the top flight. The former St Johnstone boss did manage to solve the club’s chronic lack of goals by the signing of free agent Kyle Lafferty, with his fellow Northern Irishman providing 13 goals in as many games. But with the transfer window shut, there was no fixing Killie’s open-door policy at the back. No team kept fewer Premiership clean sheets than the six shut-outs the Rugby Park men registered last term – with only two coming after Wright’s arrival – and the new boss held little back after their demotion shootout defeat to Dundee as he labelled his side’s defending “embarrassing”.

Time’s up

Kilmarnock’s Chris Burke and Zeno Rossi trudge off after losing their Premiership place to Dundee (PA Wire)

Kilmarnock’s average age for their starting line-up last season was 27.8 years – the highest in Scotland’s top division. The likes of Kirk Broadfoot, Gary Dicker, Alan Power and Chris Burke have been key men over the years but time has caught up with them this season. Playmaker Greg Kiltie has re-emerged after a couple of injury-plagued years to produce some encouraging displays but new recruits like on-loan Bournemouth youngster Zeno Rossi and ex-Portsmouth full-back Brandon Haunstrup have failed to live up to the levels of predecessors Stuart Findlay – who left for the US back in March – and Greg Taylor.

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