Matchzone: Annan Athletic (H)
Kilmarnock kicked off the 2023/24 campaign with a professional 3-0 victory against Annan Athletic in the club’s opening Viaplay League Cup fixture on Saturday 15th July.
New signings including Will Dennis, Robbie Deas and Corrie Ndaba were called upon to make their competitive debuts for Killie, while Stuart Findlay and Matty Kennedy also marked their return to Rugby Park.
Derek McInnes stuck to a similar set up selected for the club’s warm-up matches in Belfast, with a back three of Sanders, Deas and Ndaba anchoring the defence. Lyons continued to captain the side, stepping into midfield alongside Polworth and Watson. Kennedy and Armstrong were handed the responsibility of delivering from the wings, with Murray starting in support of Cameron who spearheaded the attack.
The new season burst into life, with penalty shouts in both boxes within the opening five minutes.
The visitors were first to throw their hands up in acclaim following a trip inside the box, but early appeals were quickly waved away by the offside flag.
There was no need for the linesman’s intervention a mere two minutes later when Armstrong’s goalbound strike collided with the arm of Dixon, resulting in the referee pointing to the Chadwick Stand penalty spot. Starting where he left off, Armstrong confidently stepped up and slotted home the opening goal of Killie’s League Cup campaign (1-0).
Looking assured in possession, the hosts continued to press forward, with Armstrong forcing a save moments after his early opener. The League One side remained in the battle, retaliating through a 25-yard free-kick which called the new Killie keeper into action for the first time.
Capitalising on being dominant in possession, the Rugby Park side doubled their lead through a well-worked team move after quarter of an hour. Armstrong’s deep cross towards the back post picked out Cameron, whose knock down was calmly converted by Murray on the edge of the six-yard box (2-0).
Growing in confidence, Derek McInnes’ men continued to dictate play, carving a number of chances before the half-time whistle. Kennedy’s corner caused havoc in the box, before play was halted for a foul; the winger would go on to impress throughout the afternoon, displaying his trademark cut inside from the left-wing on many occasions.
Winger – turned supporting striker – Murray was next to threaten from a cross as his driven ball was fired along the goal line and eventually diverted out for a corner. A fine sliding block from Swinglehurst also protected the Annan goal after a powerful strike more Cameron.
It was Kennedy who would come closest to extending the lead before the break. A neat exchange with Watson resulted in the winger firing onto the post as he strided into the box, coming millimeters from a third.
The decisive third goal came five minutes after the restart when Cameron latched onto a pinpoint cross from the ever-lively Murray, nodding past Annan’s ‘keeper from eight yards out (3-0).
Killie went on to dominate the next 20 minutes, which saw Polworth and Sanders fire ambitious long-range shots over the bar. An almost pitch perfect start to the cup campaign suffered a minor blow with 20 minutes remaining as a through-ball forced Sanders into a last man challenge, resulting in the Bolton-born defender receiving a straight red card.
Lyons and Murray dropped into the full-back positions as Killie reverted to a flat back four to professionally deal with the final stage.
Result: Kilmarnock 3-0 Annan Athletic
Killie lineup: Dennis, Sanders, Deas (Findlay 62), Ndaba, Murray, Watson, Lyons, Polworth (Magennis 62), Kennedy (McKenzie 79), Armstrong, Cameron.
Attendance: 3142 (111 away)
Speaking at full-time, Derek McInnes praised the contribution of Fraser Murray, stating that it was “refreshing” to see how fit and determined the winger had returned for pre-season.
The manager commented: “When I came in, Fraser was Player of the Year and as good as anyone in that Championship-winning team. He started last season injured and didn’t really get out of the traps. He’s looked fitter than anyone since coming back and earned his start today. He’s probably been one of our brightest sparks throughout pre-season and took his training performances into the game today. It was a nice finish and a great ball for big Innes’ goal.
“Good on him, he’s come back with a real determination and hopefully he can maintain that. We were over reliant on Danny to give us that spark last season. If Fraser can stay fit and keep doing what he is doing, then he has a real chance to make an impact for us this season.”
Check out the image gallery, courtesy of Jeff Holmes and Ross MacKenzie.