Matchzone: Albion Rovers (A)
Kilmarnock secured progression to the last-16 of the Viaplay League Cup with a 2-1 victory against Albion Rovers on Saturday 29th July 2023.
Stuart Findlay’s second goal in two games preceded a deflected Marley Watkins’ header as Killie made a winning return to Cliftonhill for the first time in more than two decades. The points ensured that Derek McInnes’ side moved into the knockout phase of the competition as winners of Group F.
The manager made three changes from the side that drew with Raith Rovers midweek, with Robbie Deas, Kyle Magennis and Marley Watkins called upon to replace Corrie Ndaba, David Watson and Liam Polworth in the starting XI.
The visitors lined up in a rough 3-4-3 formation. Danny Armstrong started in support of Marley Watkins & Innes Cameron, while Fraser Murray & Matty Kennedy occupied either wing.
A capacity crowd packed inside two terraces at Cliftonhill and it didn’t take long for the 800 strong away support to find full voice, sparked by a bright start from their side. With a couple of minutes on the clock, Cameron connected with Lyons’ searching diagonal ball and sent Killie’s first attempt at goal just wide of the post.
After an early sighter, the visitors broke the deadlock via another ball lofted into the box. Armstrong’s wide free-kick was swung into the danger area and latched onto by Findlay, who made the slightest of touches to bag his second goal in as many games (0-1).
It was one-way traffic in the first 15 minutes as Killie threatened to quickly double their lead. Kennedy came close to finding a second in trademark style, cutting in from the left wing before seeing his 20-yard shot rise narrowly over the bar.
The hosts grew into the game in the 10 minutes that followed, but it was Killie who continued to control possession, with Cameron and Watkins offering targets in the final third. Rovers began to display a threat of their own and Dennis was called into action to claim a looping ball towards his far post on an initial venture into the box.
Half-chances came and went for the Ayrshire side who searched for a second, with Watkins sending a curling left-footed shot high over the far post, before Cameron’s downward header was comfortably gathered by Connelly in the Rovers goal. Armstrong was next to test the keeper, forcing a fine rushing block and taking a knock in the process.
Sandy Clark’s team showed that they would make it an uncomfortable afternoon for their visitors as Duncan’s left-footed strike bobbled just past Dennis’ left post. However, their route back into the game would suffer a major blow five minutes before half-time.
A corner on the far side eventually found its way to Deas in front of the Main Stand touchline, with his cross met by Watkins whose header took a slight deflection off a defender on its route into the net (0-2).
A further sign of things to come, it was the hosts who were first to attack after the restart but failed to capitalise on an early corner. They would find a breakthrough with half an hour remaining.
Rovers halved the deficit through a measured pass over the top which was met first time by the head of Joseph, who diverted the ball into the far corner (1-2).
A competitive 10-minute spell followed, with Duncan forcing a comfortable save as the Lowland League team pressed for an equaliser. At the other end, Armstrong continuously threatened by driving towards the full-back positions. His persistence nearly paid off as he broke into the penalty area from out wide but saw a driven cross well-cleared by feet in the six-yard box.
The Premiership team freshened things up in the final 15: Ndaba, Watson and Polworth were sent on by their manager to complete the task in hand.
The travelling side came closest to finding a game-deciding goal in the final stages, but Connelly was equal to a 25-yard free-kick struck by the ever-lively Kennedy. A nervy final five minutes progressed without any major scares, with a professional performance enough to ensure Killie’s progression to the knockout phase of the competition.
Result: Albion Rovers 1–2 Kilmarnock
Rovers lineup: Connelly, Fernie, Fagan (c), Wilson, McMahon, Joseph, McCaw, Bevan (Tran 90), McColl (Prince 45), Duncan, Duffy (Paterson 87).
Killie lineup: Dennis, Mayo, Findlay, Deas, Murray, Armstrong (Watson 75), Lyons ©, Magennis (Ndaba 75), Kennedy, Watkins, Cameron (Polworth 75).
Derek McInnes believes that topping the group shows how the squad has progressed over the past month, but also takes encouragement from a number of senior players returning to full training ahead of the league opener.
Speaking at full-time, the manager said: “The players deserve a lot of credit, considering we’re still trying to build relationships and they’re still getting to know me, my staff and the club. While we’re going through all of these changes and making these adjustments – 10 signings and senior players missing – we’ve got to be pleased with topping a group as tough as this.
“We’re certainly better placed than we were a month ago, and I’m hoping over the course of the season we’ll prove that we’re better placed as a club.”
You can listen to the manager’s post-match interview – HERE.
Check out the image gallery, courtesy of club photographer, Ross Mackenzie.