Another night, another game as we headed to Ayrshire again for Kilmarnock versus St Mirren at Rugby Park. This is the Paisley side’s game in hand following their recent League Cup Final win over Hearts. It is also the tour boys sixth game in a week, so fatigue and stadium overdose is creeping in!
Thankfully the venue does not involve too much travelling and we were able to set off post rush hour. Again, this is a ground I’ve been to a few times before, but not for a good fifteen years and when trying to park anywhere near it I got a flashback to previous visits!
After a few dodgy turns up streets that were gridlocked with cars, and some ‘amber gambler’ moments at the traffic lights, we got a space maybe ten minutes or so walk away. As it goes, it worked out well for the return journey home as we were on the main route out the town and onto the M77 motorway.
As we approached the ground it was merely minutes before kick off, but I still managed to buy a programme and meet an old work colleague who works as a steward at Rugby Park. I then had to meet another friend who got us a couple of complimentary tickets through the league sponsor, Clydesdale Bank.
We encountered a bit of a jobs worth on the turnstiles, but the situation was eventually resolved and got in just after kick off. We were located in the Moffat Family Stand, behind the goal which is to the right of the Main Stand. As the game was now already underway, we just took up seats anywhere and opted for a spot to the right of the goal, which provided a decent view.
Kilmarnock were looking to cement their place in the top six before the final round of fixtures occur this weekend when the league splits into two. Manager, Kenny Shiels has once again blended in some useful signings, like Sammy Clingan and Kris Boyd, with the talented young players who have broke into the first team this season. The home fans have already seen the likes of Mark O’Hara, Rory McKeown, Jude Winchester, and Ross Barbour become regulars in the starting eleven during this campaign.
For this game, defender, Jeroen Tesselaar played against his former side, Clingan was the midfield anchorman while Borja Perez supported the forwards Boyd and Paul Heffernan meaning Cillian Sheridan started on the bench.
In the opposite dugout, Saints boss, Danny Lennon was looking to continue the feel good factor with the Paisley side and their fans after the recent cup triumph. They were at full strength with possibly their strongest starting eleven starting this game. Jim Goodwin is the focal point of the defence, with key men in the middle of the park McGowan and Newton along with young John McGinn and veteran, Gary Teale providing the ammunition for Goncalves and Thompson.
The game was a bit dull for the first quarter of an hour with the first real goal scoring opportunity falling to Kilmarnock on eighteen minutes. A Perez corner on the left was met by the head of Boyd, but the ball went over the bar and the striker knew he maybe should have done better.
No side were really dominating proceedings but it was Killie who were creating the better chances. Saints ‘keeper, Samson had to look lively when he had to charge out his box to clear a long ball over his defence. Mark O’Hara then had a shot that went wide of the left hand post without troubling the goalkeeper.
Just before the half hour, St Mirren had two great chances to score. First of all a run by Dummett on the left flashed across the goal and Steven Thompson who was sliding in, just failed to connect. Then a ball played through for Goncalves left him with a great chance to open the scoring, but his low shot ended up going wide of ‘keeper Bell’s right hand post.
Ten minutes before the break it was the visitors who took the lead, and in similar circumstances to the opportunity that was missed just minutes before. A fantastic pass from Van Zanten cut through the centre of the Killie defence and found Goncalves in space. This time he had the composure to slip the ball under Cammy Bell and into the net to open the scoring.
Instead of getting a reaction from the home players, St Mirren then had a couple of great chances to add to the scoreline. Goncalves linked well with Thompson leaving the latter with a clear shot on goal, but he lacked composure and his awful mishit shot went well wide of the target.
Then three minutes before the break, it was Goncalves again who fired a shot from inside the eighteen yard box which was superbly turned away by Bell for a corner. Killie ended the half with another chance from a Perez corner, this time from the right hand side and similar to his earlier miss, Boyd put his header wide of the post.
The second half was barely sixty seconds underway when Kilmarnock were level. A defence splitting through pass from Perez put Boyd clean through on goal, and he had the composure to clinically finish low into the bottom left hand corner of the net, leaving Samson with no chance.
The home side dominated the early stages of the restart and nearly scored again moments after equalising when Dummett cleared the ball for a corner as Boyd was ready to pounce. Killie were getting balls into the box but failing to pick out Boyd or Heffernan.
Just after the hour it was Kilmarnock again who threatened to score, when Perez fired a shot just wide from a Garry Hay cut back. Only a couple of minutes later, Hay himself got in on the act when he cracked a shot from twenty yards out which dipped just over the bar.
With twenty minutes left St Mirren nearly took the lead again on the counter attack. A Kilmarnock corner was cleared out the penalty area and found McGowan. His run and cross found Goncalves, but he rushed his effort and it went aimlessly wide of the goal.
With Killie really needing all three points, they pretty much dominated the last fifteen minutes. A ball into the St Mirren box found Boyd, but his close range header was mishit into the ground and was saved by Samson when he really should have scored.
With five minutes left and the Saints camped in their own half, Garry Hay hit another fine strike from just outside the penalty box that Samson did well to save. In the last minute, James Fowler found himself with a great chance when he burst into the box, but the onrushing Samson blocked both player and ball as the home fans screamed in vain for a penalty.
In injury time, a Boyd free kick was again well held by Samson and it proved to be the last chance of the game. It ended 1-1 and although both managers will each claim they should have won, a draw was probably a fair result over the ninety minutes.
Rugby Park is a decent stadium, and certainly one of the best in the SPL in my opinion. However, despite winning the League Cup in 2012 the club does not seem to get the support it deserves from its locals, meaning some games are poorly attended and there can be a lack of atmosphere.
My first visit here was in the early 1990s when the ground was predominantly terraced, a bit like most football grounds around the U.K were at that time. In the last two decades Kilmarnock have heavily invested in the stadium which has seen the development of three ends being completely rebuilt.
The East Stand which runs opposite the Main Stand, the Moffat Stand for home fans behind one of the goals and the Chadwick Stand which is used for away supporters behind the opposite goal replaced the old terracing. The latter two are pretty much identical and have a scoreboard on the roof facing. Once through the turnstiles you have to climb a quite unique set of spiral staircases to get up to your seats.
In recent years the club have utilised the Moffat Stand for families, with reasonable pricing for the top league. The adult price is £17 and a concession is £5. The match programme is also excellent value at £2.50 and contains a lot of good information on the club, the opposition and season statistics past and present.
Depending on the direction you approach the stadium, parking can be found close by on local streets or in our case for this game, slightly further out!
Given the venue we could not have visited without sampling the famous ‘Killie Pie’, which lived up to expectations and the catering is reasonably priced.
I did find some of the locals we encountered a bit odd though, and some of their language was pretty choice and sometimes unnecessary. The game itself was a decent spectacle, it was still a good ground to visit again and take the kids to.