Highlights of Steve Clarke’s Killie reign
Killie enjoyed an incredible rise during Steve Clarke's 20 months in charge of Scotland's oldest professional football club.
Here we look back at a selection of the many highlights of his time at Rugby Park.
Rangers 1-1 Kilmarnock, 25 October 2017
After watching from the stands at Partick Thistle, the manager’s first official game in charge would produce one of the craziest finishes to a Killie match many fans could ever have imagined.
Trailing 1-0 in injury-time, Killie looked dead and buried as Rangers were awarded a penalty to seal victory. Before the spot kick could be taken, Ryan Jack was sent off for a clash with Kirk Broadfoot with Daniel Candeias then seeing his penalty saved by Jamie MacDonald.
Killie broke up the field with Stephen O’Donnell producing a tempting cross, which substitute Chris Burke swept into the net to spark wild scenes of celebration in the away end as well as on the pitch.
The draw would provide an early indicator of Clarke’s organisational and tactical nous with the result spelling the end of Pedro Caixinha’s Ibrox tenure.
Kilmarnock 0-3 Hibernian, 31 October 2017
A comprehensive home defeat may seem like a strange inclusion on this list but given the significance it had on the players, manager and supporters then it is certainly worthy.
Steve Clarke’s first home match may not have produced any points but the reaction of the Killie crowd, applauding their team from the field stuck with the squad that the times were changing.
Ofir Marciano produced some inspired goalkeeping while the woodwork helped keep Killie at bay but this would be a match which showed the attacking potential of the team after some strong displays on the road.
Kilmarnock 5-1 Partick Thistle, 9 December 2017
It’s a struggle to select just one match from December 2017 but we opted for this one as the spark for an unbeaten run, which saw the manager and striker Kris Boyd win the Ladbrokes monthly awards.Victories over Hearts and St Johnstone away from home had continued the Clarke feelgood factor but he went into the clash with Thistle looking to achieve his first home win as Killie boss.
It duly arrived in style in the first signs of a blossoming partnership between Kris Boyd and Eamonn Brophy. Brophy had scored his first Killie goal the previous week in Perth and he grabbed a double here and produced ‘The Wolf’ celebration, which has become such a hit with the Rugby Park faithful.
Boyd was sitting on three league goals heading into this match but he had taken his total to nine by the end of the month including two against a hapless Thistle side.
A Niall Keown own goal rounded off proceedings and Clarke had taken his first steps to turning Rugby Park into a stadium, which opponents feared coming to again.
Kilmarnock 3-2 Dundee, 13 February 2018
In a month where Killie became the second side to defeat Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic in domestic action, this was a night where Rugby Park truly rocked.
Referee Nick Walsh sparked fury in the stands with his decision to show a red card to Gary Dicker with the outrageous helping to fire up the Killie crowd.
A move delivered with complete precision, including a wonderful reverse pass by Lee Erwin allowed Kris Boyd to level matters as the stadium erupted with an almighty roar.
And a mixture of joy and disbelief filled the air as Iain Wilson produced an incredible slaloming run and finish to win the match for 10-man Killie in what was the third of four successive victories.
Rangers 0-1 Kilmarnock, 17 March 2018
Following a run of nine matches unbeaten, Killie made the trip to Ibrox on the back of an agonising Scottish Cup quarter-final replay exit to Aberdeen on penalties three days previously.
Eamonn Brophy and Aaron Tshibola came in for Rory McKenzie and Alan Power respectively as Killie aimed to bounce back in style and extend Clarke’s unbeaten record against Rangers to three matches.
They did just that as Kris Boyd’s 54th minute winner proved enough to cement Killie’s place in the top six for the first time since 2010-11. Victory also kickstarted a fresh run of four successive wins to complete a remarkable reversal in fortunes for the boys in blue and white.
Kilmarnock 1-0 Hearts, 13 May 2018
Ask anyone the details of this match and chances are very little will spring to mind but three points on the final day ensured a club-record points total was set in the three points for a win era.
Craig Levein opted for a young line-up, which may make a fantastic Sporcle quiz in time, as Lee Erwin gave Killie the lead after only 10 minutes.
Killie spurned numerous opportunities to extend their advantage in glorious sunshine but it was to be a day for celebration as the players and the management team rightly took the acclaim of the crowd after reaching 59 points.
Kilmarnock 2-0 St Johnstone, 4 August 2018
Killie hadn’t won their opening match of a league season since 2009 and Steve Clarke stressed the importance of getting off to a strong start to build on the momentum of 2017/18.
The players delivered on the manager’s instructions with Scott Boyd prodding the ball into the net early in the second half of a stodgy clash with St Johnstone at Rugby Park.
Mikael Ndjoli, who had impressed in early League Cup matches, then stole with show with a world-class strike from outside the penalty area to light up the match in the closing stages and cap a great triumph for Ayrshire’s finest.
Aberdeen 0-2 Kilmarnock, 1 September 2018
Having failed to beat the Dons in three league meetings and the painful Scottish Cup defeat to Derek McInnes’ side fresh
in their minds, it was time to put the Aberdeen hoodoo to bed.
Michael Devlin saw red in the opening five minutes for hauling down Eamonn Brophy and it would be Killie’s youthful striker who would open the scoring with a wonderful free-kick on the stroke of half time.
Strengthened by the return of Aaron Tshibola and debutant Greg Stewart, Killie were in total control of the match, using their numerical advantage to find space and pick off their opponents.
Stewart marked his first Killie appearance with a fantastic goal, collecting the ball before running right through the Dons half before dinking the ball past Joe Lewis.
Kilmarnock 2-1 Celtic, 23 September 2018
A narrow loss to Hibs had followed the Aberdeen result and yet there will many promising signs of the exciting possibilities which lay ahead of this evolving Killie side.
The partnership between Stewart and Brophy was in full flight while Alan Power, Stuart Findlay and Chris Burke were emerging as crucial early season figures.
Despite some early encouraging signs, it was the visitors who took the lead when a mix up in the Killie defence allowed Leigh Griffiths to nod home the opening goal of the game. Youssouf Mulumbu was making his Rugby Park return in different colours this time around but Aaron Tshibola stepped up to the challenge, producing a dominant midfield display as Killie searched for a way back into the match.
It duly arrived when Burke drove towards the Celtic defence before arrowing a shot from 25 yards into the net via the post. And as the winger pleaded with team-mates to run down the clock in the corner, Stuart Findlay called for one last cross into the box and the centre back made his mark with a last-minute winner to stun the champions.
Kilmarnock 2-0 Livingston, 5 December 2018
A double from Greg Stewart on a cold December night sent Killie top of the table in style.
Not only did the game see Killie rise to the league summit but it completed a run of one defeat in 11 matches as well as a fourth consecutive clean sheet.
Kilmarnock 2-1 Rangers, 23 January 2019
The opening of the January transfer window saw the club hit with two body blows with Greg Stewart’s loan from Birmingham City cut short, only for him to join Aberdeen for the rest of the season while Rangers announced they had agreed a pre-contract deal with Jordan Jones.
The Northern Ireland international had scored the winning goal in the club’s final two matches before the winter break and a media frenzy followed. Prior to our return to action, the manager sat beside Jordan in our pre-match media conference to insist that fans continue to get behind the winger.
Fate, and the SPFL’s fixture gurus, would determine that our first Premiership match in 2019 would be against Steven Gerrard’s men at Rugby Park in what was to prove a crucial clash for both teams.
January arrival Jermain Defoe scored on his Rangers debut after just 12 minutes before a slip from Joe Worral allowed Eamonn Brophy in to equalise ten minutes later.
With the game evenly poised, Clarke was repaid for his faith in his player as Jones drove at the Rangers defence before unleashing a shot past Allan McGregor and into the net for the winner. Running straight to his manager, the 23-year-old enjoyed the moment as Killie rose to second place, just one point behind leaders Celtic.
Kilmarnock 5-0 Hamilton, 30 March 2019
With back-to-back Top Six finishes assured, it was time for the team to turn on the style and it was to be Hamilton, who would suffer a hammering.
Fans were used to seeing Killie battle it out for results but they sat back and soaked up a show in the sun, which started with Greg Taylor’s first senior goal for the club.
Latching onto a wonderful Youssouf Mulumbu pass, the left back controlled the ball before slamming it past Gary Woods and into the net.
Conor McAleny’s goal had given the hosts some breathing room before Rory McKenzie produced a sublime reverse pass for Mulumbu to net the first goal of his second Killie spell.
Chris Burke’s cross/shot made it 4-0 before an injury-time strike from Mikael Ndjoli added extra gloss to the score.
Hearts 0-1 Kilmarnock, 4 May 2019
After a frustrating start to our Top Six campaign with two narrow 1-0 defeats, an explosion of joy and relief was to follow at Tynecastle.
A Chris Burke corner broke outside the box before a lofted pass into Mulumbu appeared to find the midfielder in space inside the penalty box. Time seemed to stand still as the Super Killie Away crowd anticipated a shot only for the 32-year-old to show poise and skill to keep the ball.
A lay off and cross saw the ball fall perfectly for Findlay to lash it past Bobby Zlamal and spark carnage in the stands as the player rushed to embrace the supporters.
Clarke’s team had broken their own club-record points total and victory at home to Hibernian in the next fixture saw the team sit third and within touching distance of a Europa League spot.
Kilmarnock 2-1 Rangers, 19 May 2019
Steve's final match in charge would prove to be an emotional day at Rugby Park with the battle for third place and a spot in the Europa League group stages coming down to the last day.
Taking on Rangers at Rugby Park, Killie simply needed to match Aberdeen's result at Easter Road against Hibernian.
Everything seemed to be going well as Chris Burke gave Killie an early lead, latching onto a fine pass from Youssouf Mulumbu before firing past Wes Foderingham. In the capital, Hibernian were leading the Dons 1-0 through Marc McNulty, however Sam Cosgrove's equaliser drew Derek McInnes' men level just before the interval.
In the space of two minutes Alfredo Morelos equalised for Rangers just as James Wilson was putting Aberdeen into third, requiring Killie to respond.
Few things typified Steve Clarke's Killie team than their heart and they would rise to the challenge once more as the manager watched on from the stand. Stephen O'Donnell was fouled in the penalty box and Eamonn Brophy remained cool to fire past sub goalkeeper Andy Firth to send Rugby Park wild.
The final whistle led to scenes of celebration that nobody with Killie in their heart will ever forget.