• Third Place to Relegation in 735 Days !
    Third Place to Relegation in 735 Days !

Killie FC

Third to Relegation in 735 Days !

Note: Article created from Daily Record, Club Statement(s), BBC interviews, Director Comments and departing players...


It took 735 days and just 68 league games for Kilmarnock to go from Europe to a first relegation in three decades.

A dismal 2-1 home defeat to Dundee saw the Ayrshire side crash out of the top flight after 28 years, a first demotion since 1989, having dropped down to the Old Second Division on May 13th 1989 (despite winning 6-0 at Palmerston).

In the space of two years Killie have gone from "Sir" Steve Clarke (as he was affectionately known as) quipping "bye bye Rangers" to a packed Rugby Park to Kyle Lafferty addressing angry fans through a fence in the car park.

When Clarke stood on the Rugby Park pitch on the final day of the 2018-19 season after victory over Rangers he had secured Kilmarnock's highest finish since 1966.

No Club Won More Points Than Killie in 2018!

It's been quite a spectacular fall from grace for a club that looked set to mount an unlikely title challenge in the first half of 2018-19, the first time many fans will have seen their club outside the top flight.

How did Killie go from juggernaut to Hindenberg in such a short space of time? Here are eight factors behind their shambolic relegation.

Succession Planning


When third place was sealed with a dramatic last day win over Rangers in May 2019 it was already clear that Clarke would be leaving to take the Scotland job.

Though fans chanted for him to stay in emotional scenes after the final whistle the die was already cast.

Clarke had been named Manager of the Year for both Seasons 2017-18 &  2018-19.

That match was on May 19 but the new manager, Angelo Alessio, was not appointed until nearly a month later.

While taking their time to get the right man - and they clearly felt at the time the Italian was the man - in what was the club's most crucial appointment in years is understandable the first Europa League tie was in early July.

Barely a month after that dizzying high momentum had already stalled.

Player Power

Alessio was an eye-catching appointment on paper and there was justifiable excitement about his arrival.

He'd worked with Antonio Conte at Juventus, Chelsea and the Italian national team, working with some of the best players in the world.

Scottish football can be notoriously resistant to outside ideas though - just look at the mockery Ian Cathro received for having a laptop.

Italian football is notoriously tactical and there was always a risk that players would not be receptive to such a culture shock.

The club looked to ameliorate that by keeping on Clarke's assistant Alex Dyer (right), as well as bringing in Massimo Donati to try and bridge the Scottish-Italian gap.

It soon became clear though that all was not well.

Kirk Broadfoot jumped ship to St Mirren and lamented: "We spent hours just doing shape and him walking us through drills.  I know Alessio has worked at some top clubs with top players but I am not sure it was right for the guys we had at Kilmarnock.  The majority of the players found it hard and I am not sure how many of them enjoy it."

Angelo Alessio Bounced Out by "Player Power"? 

Alessio was gone by December, with captain Gary Dicker later describing his reign as "a shit-show at times".

While Killie had won just one of eight when the Italian left, they sat fifth in the league and he'd been named manager of the month for October.

Senior players insisted there'd been no dressing room unrest, and perhaps Alessio never would have worked out, but when Broadfoot returned in January it left an impression of a dressing room with too much power.

However, the ignominy of the Europa League qualifying exit to Welsh part-timers Connah's Quay never left Alessio. 

Stephen O'Donnell, former Kilmarnock defender said: 'It was a complete rip up of a squad built under Steve Clarke. One of my first conversations with him [Alessio] after I came back from international duty was, in broken English, we weren't playing with tactics. When you make bold statements like that then there's going to be unrest."

Risible Recruitment

The biggest sin of all is arguably a complete failure to refresh the team that finished third under Clarke.

Take the team that started that game against Rangers. Greg Taylor, Stephen O'Donnell, Stuart Findlay and Eamonn Brophy have gone and never been adequately replaced.

All had won Full International Cap's while at Killie!

The remaining players are Broadfoot (36), Dicker (34), Alan Power (33), Chris Burke (37) and Rory McKenzie (27). Youssouf Mulumbu (34) was on the books this season but barely featured and went AWOL before the play-offs.

Rory McKenzie (right) in his 10th year was due a testimonial, but nothing was ever organised, in all likelyhood due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation.

Not Replaced!

Killie had the oldest squad in the Premiership this season and recruitment over the past two years has been woeful.

The likes of Osman Sow, Simeon Jackson, Harvey St Clair, George Oakley and Danny Whitehall haven't solved any attacking issues.

Laurentiu Branescu, Danny Rogers and Colin Doyle have all been tried as replacements for Daniel Bachmann with limited success.

Aaron McGowan, the putative successor O'Donnell has been kept out of the team by Ross Millen, a player who was turning out for Queen's Park before his move to Ayrshire.

Being generous you could perhaps name five signings who have at least been a qualified success before Wright's arrival.

Of those Dario Del Fabro, (right) Niko Hamalainen and Zeno Rossi were loanees. Mitch Pinnock has hardly set the heather alight but did manage four goals and three assists this season, while Nicke Kabamba is limited but has occasionally been effective in the battering ram role.

That's a dismal record in the transfer market and the fact 37-year-old Chris Burke (above) is still the team's main attacking threat speaks volumes.

Poor Appointments

Billy Bowie smashed it out the park with his appointment of Clarke but things haven't gone well since.

Alessio was gone just 22 games into a three year contract and, whatever the reasons, that's hardly an indication of the right man being picked.

Alex Dyer (right) was popular with players and fans from his time as Clarke's assistant but didn't show much in his caretaker spell.

ng all three games as caretaker, Dyer was confirmed the club's new manager until the end of the campaign, raising further questions about the Ayrshire side's contingency planning.

Kilmarnock would finish the curtailed 2019-20 season in eighth, with Dyer winning only three of his 12 games while recording a points-per-game ratio of just 0.83.

However, the Rugby Park hierarchy saw enough in the 55-year-old to offer him a two-year-deal.

The Englishman failed to register a victory in the first five games of the 2020-21 season, but a run of three successive wins throughout September and October had them sitting fifth after 10 games.

But just three victories in the following 15 league fixtures led the Kilmarnock board to remove their manager from his position in February with the club in ninth - four points above the relegation play-off spot.

Alex Dyer left Killie, with the worst points-per-game record of any Killie manager since their return to the top flight.

Though not many would have a bad word to say about the Englishman as a man, as a manager his limitations were evident and he was arguably given too long this term.

At the Seasons End Cathy Jamieson Said:   "He (Tommy Wright) came in a bit too late".

Tommy Wright was a good choice to replace him on paper and had overseen an upturn in form, but two dismal play-off performances and the fact he couldn't stave off relegation means that many Killie fans have a "jury is still out" verdict.

The club were in 10th position when he took over in February - four points clear of Hamilton Academical at the foot of the table.

It took until his fourth game to gain a point - against Dundee United at home - and a further two games to secure his first win - an emphatic 4-1 victory over Motherwell.

That dragged Wright's men off the bottom of the table and offered hope for the Kilmarnock faithful - but it was shortlived as just two league wins followed.

Bowie has put plenty of his own money into the club and can't be accused of not backing his managers, but mistakes have been made in terms of appointments.

Lack of Direction

The problems with recruitment have been detailed but those issues haven't arisen in a vaccum.

Alessio came from a culture where a the manager works under a sporting director and had no experience of the Scottish game.

Despite that no sporting director was appointed for the summer window, a likely reason for the hodge-podge of signings from Italy and the Scottish lower leagues.

In November of 2019 James Fowler (right) was appointed as 'head of football operations' with the brief of being "responsible for all club recruitment and scouting".

A club legend, the former midfielder had no experience in the role and was soon working above a new manager in Dyer.

If we're to take his role at face value then the poor recruitment falls on his shoulders and Fowler's record has to be questioned.

In theory such a role should see the club plan coherently for the future despite whoever is in the dugout but little in the the way of long-term development has been obvious.

The summer saw a pursuit of Daniel Bachmann thwarted by Watford's relegation and whether Rogers was always Plan B or was a panic signing the goalkeeper did not impress at all. 

Attempting to address that problem by loaning Doyle from relegated Hearts did not help, with both responsible for some absolute real howlers. Jake Eastwood was originally "tagged" as the starter, but the Sunderland loanee, was injured on opening day, after giving up a howler himself.

A lack of imagination has also been evident.

Having tried and failed to get in contact with Mulumbu in January 2020, Fowler did bring the Congolese back for this season.

After a year out of the game the midfielder could never get 100% fit and he packed up and left after the final game of the regular season, sharing a "tit for tat" spat with Tommy Wright, as he headed out the door.

Aaron Tshibola, (a former five million quid's worth at Aston Villa) another Clarke era player, was also brought back and even Bachmann - who would have been a good signing - is a previous loanee.

Tommy Wright's only signing, Kyle Lafferty, (left) was clearly a success,and he (and not Fowler) should take the plaudits on this signing. 

Did Dyer do the same on players like Pinnock, Brandon Haunstrup and Whitehall recruited from the English lower leagues? And, if so, what is Fowler doing in his role?

Defensive Disaster

Rodgers (left) & Doyle (right) Each Dropped After Each Conceding Three Goals at Home to the Buddies

There's no question that success under Clarke was built on a solid defence.

It would be unfair to characterise his Killie team as purely defensive, with the likes of Brophy, Jones, Mulumbu and Greg Stewart providing plenty going forward.

Famous wins over Celtic and Rangers were built on being hard to beat though and that's not something you could say about Killie in Season 2020-21.

Their 43 goals this season is actually the fourth best in the Premiership but shipping 54 doomed the Ayrshire side to the play-offs.

They twice drew 3-3 with St Mirren in the run-in, (incuding conceding a 119th min extra time penalty in the Cup) and the dropping of 5 out of 6 points to the Staggies, while conceding 5 goals, was to prove destructive to Killie's survival hopes. 

Many Late Errors Cost Killie Dearly!

Needing to score four goals to win a game is not sustainable and the numbers are damning.

Killie conceded just 31 goals in Clarke's final season, and while Alessio was criticised for boring football his side were hard to beat.

The Italian managed eight clean sheets in his 17 league games in charge, and Kilmarnock have kept six in the 18 months since.

Tommy Wright Laments: "Too many players haven't turned up and not just in the play-off games – it's all season.  That's 24 defeats this season in 40 games if you count this as two league games in. That says a lot about the squad. We've been gifting goals away. The first day I arrived I told them if they do the basics, defend well and take responsibility you can stay in the league. But we haven't done that".

Disciplinary Issues

It's hard to win games when you're constantly shipping goals and even harder when you're playing a man down.

Killie received a mammoth six red cards this season, the highest of any team in the league.

Given they were consigned to the play-offs by two points, it's not unreasonable to say that without daft sendings off a disastrous season could merely have been a poor one.

Timing & Luck

After Livingston’s late winner on Boxing Day it was now five defeats in a row for Killie and eight losses in nine league games. Alex Dyer responded to the defeat by saying he would have no complaints if the club’s board decided his time was up.
Dyer Said:  "If Billy [Bowie, Kilmarnock chairman] says tomorrow 'that's time' I'll shake his hand and give him a hug because they've been good to me".

Many Killie fans were expecting Dyer to be binned..... Unfortunately Killie's next Club Press Release was.... 

“Kilmarnock Football Club utterly condemns a letter which was delivered to the club this morning containing racist abuse directed at our manager, Alex Dyer. We are working with Police Scotland to identify any individuals involved in this disgusting act and we will pursue the strongest possible action we can against them. Racism in any form is completely unacceptable and must be called out whenever and wherever it is found.  As a club, we have shown our support to rid the game and society as a whole of racial discrimination by taking the knee before each fixture this season and we will continue to do so.”
In hindsight it was pretty obvious that Dyer knew his time was up, however the Club chose to stand behind him, in light of the racist abuse he had just received.

Killie did the honorable thing, however Dyer's sacking was inevitable, and came "a bit to late" (Cathy Jamieson, May 2021). Tommy Wright ended up with no transfer window to work with, and two dud keepers into the bargain. 

One can certainly argue, that the higly unfortunate racist letter (aimed at Alex Dyer) that the club received, prolonged Dyer's tenure, leaving a replacement manager with no transfer window to work with. 

No good deed goes unpunished ..... Right? Forum thread on this issue - HERE

Key Comments

Happier Days for Cathy Jamison, Billy Bowie & Phyllis McLeish

Director Cathy Jamieson: "Simply isn't good enough. It's really important that we have confidence in the manager. He knows what he wants to do, he's got a vision for the way forward and as a board we need to back him. He came in a bit too late, but we do have the right manager now. We can rebuild and we will rebuild."

Director Phyllis McLeish: "The club has been looking down the barrel of the gun for more than just a few weeks. We were going to stick with the player budget we've got, there wouldn't be a reduction. We wanted to give Tommy and the team he's going to rebuild over the summer every possible chance to make it a very brief sojourn in the Championship."

Director Billy Bowie: "It's been a tough season for us all to get through, but we're going to bounce back. We've haemorrhaged a lot of money to keep the club going but we're still going to keep it going."

Kris Boyd on SKY (on the Eve of the Dee Home game): "There will be one almighty clear-out in the summer and, with maybe two or three exceptions, it is hard to make a case for most of the current squad staying at the club.  Unfortunately the story of Kilmarnock’s season, is that defensively they have not been good enough and that was the case long before the current manager arrived. Their away form this term has also been absolutely abysmal. I have watched them a number of times over the past nine months and they have been poor. But Thursday topped the lot. It was Dundee who looked like the Premiership team and played with an arrogance and swagger.  Killie were diabolical, especially at the back, while the current goalkeeping situation doesn’t help either. Both Colin Doyle and Danny Rogers have made high-profile errors this season. 

That doesn’t help the defenders in front of them. When you have confidence in your goalkeeper, it helps your own game. You can get tighter to strikers and not worry about them running in behind.  However, there is a real nervousness about the Kilmarnock team and it all starts from the keeper. Wright keeps chopping and changing and that tells me he doesn’t trust either of them. The uncertainty then filters through the team and you can see that in most games".

Club Manager Tommy Wright:  "I just feel sorry for the fans. I've let them down and ultimately the players have let themselves and let the club down. But I'll take my responsibility myself as well. I'm not ducking anything. I thought I could get us out of it, but unfortunately I didn't.” - MORE

Club Captain Gary Dicker:  Complete departing comments can be found - HERE.

You can share your thoughts/opinions ... On Where It All Went Wrong for Killie - HERE

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