Kilmarnock captain Chris Stokes on why Wembley will hold parallels with Rugby Park in Championship cliffhanger

Sold-out Rugby Park isn’t quite Wembley but there are parallels for the club captain from his time at Coventry, who required a eague Two play-off final win over Exeter City to seal promotion back to League One in 2018.

Expectation levels will be just as high in the home end tonight where a win will see Stokes lift the league trophy and restore Killie’s Premiership status at the first time of asking.

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“It’s like a play-off final you are going into. It comes down to one game now, if we win on Friday night it’s job done. That’s what we’re looking to do,” explained Stokes, who added automatic promotion with second -placed Bury from League Two the year following Coventry’s win at Wembley.

“That was a big experience I can lean on with a big crowd, big pressures, going into games where it is a must-win and you have so many people coming to watch you demanding success and those are the games I’ll lean on Some of the boys might not have experienced that pressure before.

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“We’re at home and we go into every game to win, if we get the three points it’s job done. If not, if it’s a draw, we can still go to Raith and get three points. To me it’s going into this game with the mindset of picking up three points.

“When we all stepped into this building and came together as a group, we spoke about getting ourselves into a position where we are fighting for a league title and we’ve got ourselves into it. We go into Friday with a positive attitude that all that hard work now comes down to this one game.”

Chris Stokes is aiming to captain Killie into the Premiership. (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group)

His previous CV will stand Stokes in good stead. He, like Ash Taylor and Kyle Lafferty, has experienced it all and knows the necessary attributes of a promotion-winning side. Key to that is not only players on the pitch, but the manager who puts them there, and Stokes has high praise for Derek McInnes’ turnaround since taking over in January.

“I want to be playing for teams who are striving for success and that’s where you need your big players in the changing room to get their arms round the players, you need a good manager who has been through it before.

“The manager has been fantastic, he has experience of being promoted and we’ve got players who have been before and that’s what we need to lean on.

Stokes, then of Coventry City, celebrates with the trophy after the Sky Bet League Two Play Off Final between Coventry City and Exeter City at Wembley on May 28, 2018. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

He added: “I had a good chat [with McInnes] when he first came in. It was just about installing that belief in the players because you could see a few had their heads down.

“Since he’s come in, we’ve been fantastic at home and got the crowd right behind us in every game.

“The atmosphere has been great recently. We need to keep that going, but all the fans who come [tonight] will bring that positive attitude and positive thinking that we’ll be winning this game.”

The captain missed the first half of the season through injury but has returned as Killie moved to the top of the table and are now one game from the Premiership. (Photo by Rob Casey / SNS Group)

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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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