2020/21 Season Preview - Kilmarnock: Big Improvement Needed For Top 6 Hopes
After Steve Clarke managed to secure 3rd place and European football for Kilmarnock in the 2018/19 season, all seemed to be going great for the Ayrshire club. The club was prospering following a great season and emerging talents that got fans returning to Rugby Park, managing to draw in an attendance of over 12k for the final game of the season against Rangers. As expected following a superb season, manager Steve Clarke would have many callers and would eventually leave the club to take up the Scotland job. Since then, the good feeling at Killie has diminished again.
The experiment of Angelo Alessio - former assistant manager to Antonio Conte - seemed to be half-hearted with a lot of impatience and culture clashes leading to the Italians dismissal whilst the club sat in 5th place in December. Alessio's reign got off to the worst of starts, with Killie's European dream ending embarrassingly at the hands of Welsh part-timers Connah's Quay Nomads. One win in eight and four straight games without victory saw Alex Dyer take over KIllie but the fortunes didn't exactly change. Dyer's side would pick up 10 from 36 available points as the side slumped down the table and finishing eighth, 5 places lower than the previous season.
Killie suffered quite the drop-off, which was expected when Clarke left but now run the risk of being left behind from other contenders for the top 6. Only Hearts had a worse record in the last 15 games last season with Killie four points off the likes of Ross County and Hamilton in a very poor run of form. There is sympathy with Alex Dyer as he took over a side that was lacking harmony but a lot remains to be seen about this current Kilmarnock side.
The current lineup is far from a poor side, with the likes of Alan Power, Gary Dicker, Stuart Findlay and Eamonn Brophy all playing regularly for the club, with it being surprising no club has taken a punt on the latter two. The side are in no trouble of being dragged into fights at the bottom end of the league but with the form shown last season and departures over the years, Killie may find themselves in a sort of no man's land in the middle of the table. The loss of Stephen O'Donnell will be a considerable loss as the Scotland international has been an ever-present figure during Killies recent successes. The arrival of Hamilton's Aaron McGowan is a decent bit of business from Killie though, with fans hoping their new right-back can quickly replicate similar standards of form.
The issue comes in the form of how the teams above Killie have gone about business. Motherwell, Livingston and Hibs all finished above Killie and have strengthened with departures kept to a minimum with the consistency of Aberdeen always keeping them in contention. The Killie side doesn't seem to have improved massively whilst others have got stronger, which could very well lead to a bigger gap being created. Killie scored a lot fewer goals than the aforementioned sides, with 31 in 30 games being a large part of Killie's downfall. The top 7 bar St Johnstone all scored over 40 goals as Kilmarnock relied heavily on Eamonn Brophy to deliver the goods. As previously mentioned, Kilmarnock need bodies and more attacking output is a must to ease the pressure on the Scotland striker.
The biggest difference that could make this season is how Alex Dyer will have had the adequate time to get his squad ready in his style of play rather than doing so halfway through a season. It's a truly fresh start following recent disappointments but Dyer will need to work fast in order to show he is the right man for the job. With Dyer being more akin to the style of Clarke, he'll be given time to build upon that philosophy which clearly suits the Scottish game more than Alessio's. With a pre-season and control over the squad, he will be able to properly stamp his own imprint on this Kilmarnock side, as the opening games of the season will show where improvements are needed.
For the upcoming season, Kilmarnock fans should probably expect similar standards from their side. On their day, more than capable of causing problems but lacking that consistency in order to break into the top 6. With expectations like this, Kille needs to be patient with Dyer and not pull the trigger should things go wrong at the start of the season. With the current circumstances, some expectations may need to be put in place and possibly accept a quietish season until normality resumes and where the club can properly build upon their squad.