Kyle Lafferty fulfils Kilmarnock ‘obligation’ as Derek McInnes busts wages myth after two goal heroics

Derek McInnes insists there’s never a dull moment with Kyle Lafferty about the place.

Well the striker certainly lit up Kilmarnock’s title push with a dream double to push the Championship leaders four points clear at the top.

The veteran frontman opted to knock back a call-up to Ian Brarclough’s Northern Ireland squad so he could continue leading the Ayrshire outfit’s promotion push against Thistle.

And he made his presence count after whipping a sensational set-piece home to put Killie one-up at the break.

He wasted little time as the second half got underway too, breaking home within 18 seconds of the restart to put the seal on victory.

It should have been a stroll to the final whistle for McInnes’ men but a late lapse in concentration opened the door for Thistle to pull one back through Connor Murray, teeing up a nervous final few minutes.

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Kilmarnock club for a result which means they’ve racked up a magnificent seven games unbeaten and with just five games remaining they look on course for an immediate Premiership return.

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As he’s just glad that Lafferty – who now has seven goals in 10 games since return in January – is providing value for money with his priceless contribution up top.

“Kyle’s here on the same wages as other players,” insisted the Killie boss. “He’s not here for this big money that might be assumed. He had one offer from the Premiership, a couple of offers abroad and a couple of offers from Championship clubs who were offering the same type of money.

“He felt he had an obligation after being part of a team that was relegated. He felt it was the right fit for him.

“I’m really lucky to have him and Kilmarnock fans appreciate him. There’s never a dull moment Monday to Friday with him.

“He’s a huge personality but when I spoke to people in the Northern Ireland set-up they said on game day there’s a switch, he’s on it and it’s business.

“When each game becomes bigger than the last one, the bigger the performance. He can be so important for us in the run-in with his experience.”

Lafferty could have taken another couple of steps towards becoming a Northern Ireland centurion after being named in Baraclough’s squad for this week’s friendly showdowns with Luxembourg and Hungary.

But McInnes was delighted to see the frontman’s commitment to his club, saying: “He’s on 87 caps and I know how much he loves playing for his country but our need is more than Northern Ireland’s at the minute, especially for a friendly.

“We’re four points clear with five games left and we’d totally have taken that position when we came in here.”

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Killie didn’t look like a side with Premiership ambitions during a dire opening 20 minutes.

McInnes’ was left sweating when Kyle Lafferty went down clutching his back after a collision with Jags defender Tunji Akinola.

To his gaffer’s obvious relief, however, the big Northern Irishman dusted himself down and got back to his feet — and just as well for the hosts.

Within seconds of the striker ambling back onto to the pitch he had got the wrong side of Akinola as a huge punt from keeper Zach threatened to soar past Thistle’s static backline.

The former West Ham trainee had no option but to drag Lafferty back but all that did was hand the Killie talisman 10 yards of space and a stationary ball with which he expertly whipped home his stunning free-kick opener on 22 minutes.

However, Killie’s failure to build on their lead provided Thistle with the encouragement to mount a later charge just before the break.

But they wasted a better chance two minutes before the interval as on-loan Rangers kid Alegria sent a header wide from just five yards out as he leapt on Scott Tiffoney’s vicious back-post corner.

If the Firhill men finished the first half the stronger, they could not have made a worse start to the second.

There was just 18 seconds on the clock when Rory McKenzie lofted a perfect diagonal ball over Akinola for Lafferty, who needed one touch before rifling past Sneddon.

It took the cross bar to deny Ash Taylor’s header as Killie looked to turn the screw – but instead they were left hanging on as Murray bundled home with three minutes left from Kyle Turner’s corner.

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That sent a wave of panic and alarm sweeping round Rugby Park but to Thistle’s frustration there was no miracle escape.

It’s only two weeks since the Maryhill men were hoping to fight their way into the title reckoning.

But a disastrous run of four defeats on the spin now means they’re now sweating over their play-off place with fifth-placed Raith Rovers now just two behind.

Jags boss Ian McCall was without eight players but he hopes his injury-hit side will be able to cling on to their current position long enough for them to welcome back their top performers.

He said: “I’d like to think Alex Jakubiak, Brian Graham, Robbie Crawford and maybe one other will be back for next week against Arbroath.

“So that will help.

“If we can kick on and make the play-offs we could have five or six fresh players coming in at that point.

“We’ve just got to weather this storm.

“I thought we were very unlucky to be 1-0 down at half-time and losing a goal after 30 seconds of the second half killed us.

“If we’d just have got the goal five or 10 minutes earlier that would have made it quite interesting.

“Ultimately at this stage all that matters is results.”

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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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