Killie’s Prodigal Son Could Seal Top 6 Finish

By Johnny Connelly

Alexei Eremenko
Alexei Eremenko – The key man?

As the eyes and ears of Scottish football fans turned towards Parkhead in expectance of an injection of excitement to the transfer window in this Scotland; the attention turned to the Ayrshire coast as Finnish international Alexei Eremenko secured an unexpected switch back to Kilmarnock.

Killie’s talisman playmaker of the 2010-2011 season joined Allan Johnstone’s men until the end of the season, and his technical ability has sparked hopes of a top six finish, as well as a bit more excitement in general at Rugby Park.

First time around, it was then manager Mixu Paatelainen who used his homeland contacts to procure Eremenko on loan from Metalist Kharkiv. The midfield dynamo wasted little time in making his mark, scoring the winner on his debut against St Mirren with a tantalising free kick.

After the match, Eremenko said: “ I made some good passes at the start of the game which gave me confidence. It was an okay performance from me, but I can even play much better than this.”

He wasn’t kidding. Eremenko went on to light up what was then the SPL, carving out a place in Scottish football folklore as potentially the most gifted player to grace a Kilmarnock shirt in 20 years.  He scored a handful of goals that season, and transformed Killie’s attacking play with his ability to split defences with precision passes.

His skills drew crowds and plaudits, so much so that both Celtic and Rangers made enquiries about acquiring the player’s services. A big money move to Rubin Kazan ensued, but he failed to hold down a place in the team, presumably as a result of the options available thanks to the club’s vast wealth.

Eremenko’s record for the Finland national team (59 caps and 14 goals) also proves that the silky flair player can perform at the highest level, and now has invaluable experience that would benefit any club in Scotland.

Killie currently sit 8th in the SPFL. They’ve had an inconsistent season so far, and are widely considered as safe from relegation, but with Kris Boyd having netted 15 times so far, the introduction of an attacking playmaker like Eremenko could push him up over the 20 goal mark, and move Killie into the top half of the table.

With any luck Eremenko’s return will bring about an increase in crowds at Rugby Park, but at the very least, his sublime skills will improve the profile of our league overall.

During his last loan spell, Eremenko helped guide the Ayrshire club to a comfortable 5th placed finish in the SPL. There’s a bit of work to do to replicate that feat again, but it’s far from impossible. Allan Johnstone’s men are edging away from the pack at the foot of the table as each week passes, and now find themselves just 9 points behind a wayward Dundee United who haven’t won any of their last 6 matches in the SPFL.

As Eremenko parted ways with Killie last time around, he made a promise to return. He is certainly a man of his word. This week he also said: “I don’t think I played against Kris (Boyd) when he was at Rangers the last time I was here. But I watched Saturday’s game with Inverness and I think I can make him score even more goals.”

Everyone at Kilmarnock will be hoping that he continues to be a man of his word, as this partnership with Boyd could make the difference between them finishing in the top and bottom 6 come May.

With just 8 games remaining before the split, the clock is ticking for Killie and Eremenko.

Catch Up With The Football Show – SPFL Live Commentary – 02/11/13

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Missed the football yesterday? Catch up with all the action on Peter & Roughie’s Football Show. Peter Martin, Alan Rough, and Gordon Duncan provide live commentary from Celtic’s clash with Dundee United. Live updates also included from every match in the SPFL, including updates from yours truly as Terry Butcher’s Inverness Caley Thistle took on a resurgent Killie in the Highlands… 

Listen here.

Kenny Shiels: A shot in the arm for the SPL

By Ewan McQueen

Hitthebyline’s Ewan McQueen reveals why he thinks Kilmarnock boss Kenny Shiels has impacted positively in more ways than one on the Scottish game.

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The man in question – Killie boss, Kenny Shiels

Since filling the void left by the inimitable Mixu Paatelainen at Killie, an unlikely cult hero in Kenny Shiels has emerged, and has scarcely been away from the headlines.

Things didn’t look good at the start for Shiels, as the Northern Irishman failed to win any of his 8 games as caretaker manager of the Ayrshire club. Many doubted whether he even had it in him to carry on the Finn’s good work.

However, this season he has dragged his team by the scruff of the neck up to 6th position in the table, and has made many shrewd signings including his own son Dean, whilst at the same time retaining the easy-on-the-eye style of play introduced by his predecessor.

To put the icing on the cake for the Rugby Park faithful, he has also led Kilmarnock to their first cup final in five years, as his men now prepare to lock horns with the might of Neil Lennon’s Celtic on March 18th.

But there’s much more to Shiels than just his success on the pitch. As a wavering SPL continues to face the ever-present danger of becoming stagnant, Shiels has introduced a colourful personality to the league at just the right time, and his comments that have landed him in hot water are undoubtedly a breath of fresh air, regardless of whether you agree with him or not. I feel the strong criticism he’s had is completely wrong. Infact, his honesty is a quality that should be admired.

Until recently the Northern Irishman hadn’t really got involved in any spats with fellow managers.

Instead, he went about re-building the Kilmarnock team who had lost some real quality in terms of Conor Sammon, Craig Bryson and Alexi Eremenko in the previous two transfer windows.

But in the past few weeks Shiels has been involved in many disagreements that have threatened to overshadow the football on the pitch. The first of these came to light in the aftermath of Kilmarnock’s 1-0 win over their rivals Ayr United in the League Cup Semi Final.

Despite requiring extra-time to beat the first division side, Shiels’s side were utterly dominate throughout, having an incredible 31 shots on goal and also enjoying 69% of the possession.

Afterwards, many criticised the Kilmarnock manager for showing a lack of disrespect towards Brian Reid’s men by saying only one side had tried to win the game and said it would have been a travesty if his side hadn’t won the game.

But in my eyes, Shiels was well within his rights to say what he liked about the Ayr side. Despite being a part-time club, Ayr had already beaten Inverness, Hearts and St Mirren on their way to Hampden.

This was a game in which Ayr played for penalties, which when it was a derby game and a chance to return to Hampden was nothing short of disgraceful in my eyes.

All Shiels did was being honest about the standard of his opponents in the game. More managers should be like this rather than trying to be nice to all.

Shiels had just seen his side rack up 31 shots and enjoy 69% of the possession. In my eyes, Shiels was entirely justified to say only one side tried to win the game.

The following week Shiels and Kilmarnock found themselves on the wrong end of a 1-0 Scottish Cup defeat to Hibs. Afterwards, Shiels had a pop at Hibs goalkeeper Graham Stack who he said had held onto the ball for long periods of the game.

Some said he was having a moan for the sake of having a moan. But he had every right to be aggrieved. Stack had clearly timewasted during the game, and this is something that should be clamped down on by referees.

Instead of being lambasted, Shiels should have been praised for his honesty.

And now on to his biggest spat (so far). His argument with Hearts boss Paulo Sergio last week threatened to spill over into something akin to World War 3. And it certainly seems it won’t be ending anytime soon.

Once again, I really enjoyed Shiels’s honesty. He merely put himself in Sergio’s shoes and said he would stand up to Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov over his handling of the team.

For Sergio to label the Northern Irishman a “clown” was absolutely laughable.

The Portuguese man was the manager who was the clown when he refused to shake Shiels’s hand not once but twice when they played at Rugby Park last weekend. And then Sergio had an altercation with Dean Shiels at the final whistle, which again showed his immaturity.

So let’s hear it for Kenny Shiels; a man whose positivity and honesty has been a breath of fresh air for Scottish football.

Let’s hope it continues for a long time yet.