Better late than never, Pete Sixsmith reflects on his trip over the border …
A favourite quiz question was “Name three senior clubs who play at grounds named after other sports?” One of them went when Derby left The Baseball Ground, another when Wrexham’s Racecourse became a non-league stadium, leaving Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park the sole remaining part of the poser.
It is a decent stadium, with an old grandstand and three modern “throw them up quickly” stands. The current capacity is 18,000 (not challenged on Tuesday night) whereas the old standing ground was double that. It was quite a recent record as well, for a SFA Cup tie with Rangers in 1962, which they lost 2-4.
Killie are the oldest club still playing in Scotland. They were founded in 1869 and played their first game in 1873 against Renton (they played Spud the week after and would have played Begbie the week after that, but he threatened to bottle them). Presumably, for the four years between foundation and that first game, they played the “rugby type game” which one internet source gives as the reason for their ground’s name.
Nothing remotely rugby like from this Kilmarnock team. They pride themselves on the passing style that they have adopted under previous managers and continued under the new incumbent, Kenny Shiels. They gave most of their first choice players a run out and also included three trialists from Slovenia (looked ok), Belgium ( a possibility) and Spain (don’t call us, we’ll call you).
Against that, we had a side out that could, and may, play in the PL at some stage next season. Kieran Westwood made his debut in goal as did Wes Brown at centre half. Both would be satisfied with their debuts. Westwood was solid and nothing came back off him. He read the game well, and the handful of crosses that came in, he left to his defenders to clear.
Brown looked calm and unruffled against a former Doncaster Rovers occasional and a Belgian from Bulgaria. He made one tackle that caused Paul Heffernan, late of The Keepmoat Stadium to judder and he read the game as comfortably as Jeff Brown reads the Look North news.
His former Old Trafford buddies, Bardsley and Richardson, were never threatened, not even by the Killie No 4, David Silva, presumably on a season’s loan from City. My, how he’s grown!!
In midfield, we looked very tidy, with Cattermole handling the rough stuff and Vaughan beavering away. I don’t think Cattermole knows the meaning of the word “friendly”. He put in a couple of almost naughty tackles, prompting Dave Quinn in The Herald to describe him as “combative to the point of being dirty”. He may have a point, and, as the poet Burns says:
“O wad some Power, the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us”
We describe him as a competitor; others who don’t see the hard work he does would probably not agree.
Larsson and Steed covered the wings, with the Swede taking all the corners and (are you ready for this?), actually getting the ball past the first defender on a regular basis.
That left our African strike force. Sessegnon is looking very sharp and his goal was a good one. He could surprise teams in the first half of the season. Gyan was clearly inching his way back to match fitness and showed all the touches we have come to expect from him.
As always, the game lost its rhythm when the replacements began to come thick and fast. Wickham opened his account with a well taken goal after Sessegnon’s killer pass played in Elmohamady, who (are you ready for this?) delivered a telling cross. Ji-Dong-won had some good touches and looks as if he may do something and there was another assured performance from Louis Laing.
A pleasant night out on a gorgeous evening, spent amongst dedicated followers of both sides. No stupid youths flinging beer around in the bar areas and some sensible stewarding and policing from Ayrshire’s finest, even to the extent of allowing one Sunderland supporter to bring his dog in.
Somehow I can’t see that happening on August 20.