Improved standard of Scottish football making it much harder for Motherwell

Managers Steve Clarke and Stephen Robinson at Rugby Park on Saturday (Pic by Ian McFadyen)
Managers Steve Clarke and Stephen Robinson at Rugby Park on Saturday (Pic by Ian McFadyen)

There is no doubt that the standard of Scottish football is on the up and Kilmarnock FC are the embodiment of that statement at the moment.

Perennial relegation battlers under recent managers like Gary Locke, Lee Clark and Lee McCulloch, the Ayrshire side’s fortunes have improved drastically since Steve Clarke took the reins in October 2017.

The man with a wealth of experience of English top flight football – he was formerly assistant manager of Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool and bossed West Bromwich Albion to an impressive eighth placed finish in season 2012-2013 – has proved to be an inspirational appointment by the Killie board.

To put Clarke’s impact into some sort of perspective, he’s transformed Kilmarnock’s fortunes by clinching an unlikely fifth place finish in last season’s Scottish Premiership and they are currently fourth this time around.

Clarke has a win rate of over 50 per cent since taking charge just under a year ago, much higher than the previous five incumbents of Kenny Shiels (28 per cent), Allan Johnston (30 per cent), Gary Locke (25 per cent), Lee Clark (22 per cent) and Lee McCulloch (26 per cent).

In other words, Kilmarnock have rapidly gone from a team which Motherwell could be confident of finishing above to one which is currently six league places and nine points above the struggling Steelmen.

With big guns Hearts, Rangers and Hibernian now all firmly re-established in the top flight, Celtic and Aberdeen still in place and Killie going great guns under Clarke, it’s rapidly looking as if Motherwell’s regular top six finishes of recent seasons are about to become a thing of the past.

This season looks to be all about survival for the Steelmen, with Dundee’s 2-0 win at Hamilton Accies on Saturday meaning that the rock bottom Dark Blues are just one point below the men in claret and amber.

Relegation concerns don’t look like being an issue for Kilmarnock as long as they have Clarke at the helm, although the Saltcoats-born gaffer was keeping his targets modest when speaking to pressmen after Saturday’s comfortable 3-1 home win over ’Well.

“At the moment we have a good shape to the team,” said the 55-year-old.

“We don’t get carried away because it’s only 13 points. We need a few more points before we’re safe in the league so that’s all we’re working towards.

“For a club of Kilmarnock’s stature, I think you always have to set that as your first benchmark.

“If you get safe early enough in the season then you can set another target, but first of all you need to pick up the points that keep you in the league.”

But Motherwell’s defeat on Saturday means they are definitely in a relegation battle, and face a huge home encounter against a Livingston outfit who are currently riding high in third place after stunning Steven Gerrard’s Rangers 1-0 on Sunday.

Leading 1-0 at Rugby Park thanks to Curtis Main’s emphatically struck 16th minute opener, the Steelmen paid for Main’s weak 23rd minute penalty which was comfortably saved by Jamie MacDonald.

Killie bossed most of proceedings after that, with Chris Burke, Greg Stewart and Eamonn Brophy (penalty) piling the misery on ’Well who have now lost four straight matches in league and cup.