Ayrshire derby fever but points not bragging rights the focus for Kilmarnock and Ayr United


Apprehension and anticipation will soon give way to excitement and enthusiasm tomorrow night as derby fever erupts under the Rugby Park lights.

But expect a battle of Ayrshire with a difference where the local bragging rights play second fiddle, on this occasion, to the cherished prize of three much-needed cinch Championship points.

In the blue and white corner we have the title favorites Kilmarnock, with two clean-sheet derby victories to their name this term and hopes of wiping out last season’s relegation from the Premiership with a quickfire promotion.

Then in the black and white corner there is the Honest Men of Ayr United, traveling up the A77 in search of success but all the while looking at the prospect of relegation in their rear view mirror.

As Michael Buffer would say, ‘Let’s get ready to ruuuuummmmble!’

This is the most vital derby of the season – until the next one – but, in truth, it is both sides’ most important game of a campaign which has not been what it said on the brochure.

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As if to prove that point, consider this: Tommy Wright and Jim Duffy were Kilmarnock and Ayr’s managers the last time they squared off at the end of October. This evening, Derek McInnes and Lee Bullen step into the Ayrshire derby cauldron.

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And they do so knowing that only victory will do – for the first time, the concerns and anxieties over league position perhaps overshadow the derby itself, shaving off an emotional edge as the fans eye the impact of a win on the standings rather than putting one over the neighbours.

Killie finds themselves four points behind table-topping Arbroath while Ayr are second bottom on goal difference, four points clear of struggling Queen of the South who have a game in hand.

There is no doubt that there are significant expectations and demands of Kilmarnock’s playing staff going into the final two-and-a-half months of a season which has been disappointing yet could still have a silver lining.

“Players who signed for Kilmarnock, no matter when they joined, it’s about getting us back up to the Premiership,” said boss McInnes as he looked ahead to a pivotal night.

Kilmarnock's players celebrate Oli Shaw's winner in October's Ayrshire derby
Kilmarnock’s players celebrate Oli Shaw’s winner in October’s Ayrshire derby

“It’s the same for myself and my staff and we have to approach that head on.

“When you work for a club like this, there will be an expectation – especially in this league. We all knew that and you have to deal with that.”

He added: “I have been brought in as there was a feeling we might not win promotion.

“We have brought in a few signings and we have to find a way to make us win more games.”

Friday night’s 1-0 reverse to Dick Campbell’s Smokies at Gayfield has the alarm bells ringing among the Killie support.

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There remains hope that it will be ‘alright on the night’ when it comes to achieving the season’s sole objective but it’s difficult not to cast the mind back to last season when the prevailing attitude was probably something similar.

“We probably haven’t won enough tight games as a club,” McInnes said. “It was tight on Friday and we have to try to win those games by producing moments of quality.

“Friday won’t derail or upset us too much as there are plenty of games left.

“We have that belief in the players and we have to believe it can be a successful season.

“If others lose that belief then that’s up to them, but for us, it is dealing with the job at hand.

“We came here to try to get the club into the Premiership and that hasn’t changed just because we lost a game.”

McInnes – who has an unspecified number of players missing the derby due to a range of issues – wants to see more of an attacking threat compared to what was served up on the fringes of the North Sea in front of the BBC Scotland cameras.

“I can’t expect us to be perfect but I expect us to be better,” he said.

Playing ‘cup football in the league’ is the philosophy from McInnes, emphasizing the need for Kilmarnock to win matches and wrestle control of the title race as matches start to run out.

“We have so few games left we have to get the job done, especially after the Arbroath game,” he said. “I don’t want the players to be any more motivated as it is a derby – I want them to be motivated in every game.”

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For Kilmarnock to successfully complete their journey on the road to redemption, they will almost certainly have to be. Let battle commence.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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