AFTER one year and one day into the job, Lee Clark decided to exit Kilmarnock in favour of League One strugglers Bury.
Clark departs Rugby Park with the club narrowly in the top six and just four points ahead of Hamilton, who occupy the dreaded playoff position, having overseen 22 player arrivals in just two transfer windows.
The departure of Clark means that Killie are looking for their seventh permanent manager in just over six years since they sacked Jim Jeffries, who’d spent eight years at the club. That stat in itself is worrying for the club who badly need stability on and off the pitch.
Lee McCulloch has been promoted as interim Manager for at least one game and he’ll be looking to build on the teams three game unbeaten run, which has lifted them into sixth position and given themselves a little breathing space as they aim to secure another season in Scotland’s top flight.
So how can Lee Clark’s 12 months and one day in charge of Kilmarnock be assessed?
When he first came in, the primary objective was to keep the club in the top flight, which was dually accomplished in the Premiership playoff by overcoming a 1-0 first leg deficit to trounce Falkirk 4-0 at Rugby Park to guarantee top flight football for a 24th consecutive season, a feat only bettered by Celtic, Aberdeen and Motherwell.
His next task was to build a team capable of surviving comfortably and challenge for a top six place. Given how tight the League is from sixth to eleventh in the table, it’s hard to gauge where they are in those goals despite their current position, though recent results suggest the club have improved over the last couple of months.
Clark’s signing policy has been the most controversial. The fact Kilmarnock have fielded no fewer than 35 different players so far this season has made it difficult for them to find any real consistency for them to pull away from a relegation dogfight, and had made Clark’s job in fielding a settled side difficult. He did find one gem in Souleymane Coulibaly, who netted 11 goals in his six month spell before departing for Egypt for an £800k fee, and has had to replace other key players from last season in Josh Magennis and Craig Slater following their moves to England.
The fact that Kilmarnock are in the top six in spite of using so many players is good going although Clark was disappointed with their Cup performances, which saw them exit the League Cup at the inaugural Group Stages and go down to a last minute penalty at home to Hamilton in the Scottish Cup. Clark was critical of his players on those occasions but has, generally, stuck by them throughout the season and their recent form means he can depart Rugby Park content with the jobs he’s done, albeit an incomplete one. It would’ve been interesting to see how he got on between now and the end of the season, and if he could keep Kilmarnock in the top six or if they’d be sucked back into the mix to avoid relegation, such is the tightness of the League table.
Instead, he’s chosen to go to a club scrapping it out to stay in England’s third tier. It’s almost a poor indictment on the Scottish game that choosing to leave a top flight team for the humble surroundings of Gigg Lane is seen as a step up in the managerial ladder, despite the fact Bury’s average attendance is just shy of 1500 less than at Kilmarnock. No wonder some Killie fans are dismayed at Clark’s decision to leave after just 12 months.
So one Lee is away and it looks as though another Lee might be his successor. Lee McCulloch, Assistant to both Clark and predecessor Gary Locke, takes charge of the side against in-form Aberdeen on Sunday and is keeping his cards close to his chest as to whether he wants the job on a permanent basis.
He took charge for two matches in the wake of Locke’s departure, drawing away to Rangers in the Scottish Cup and winning 2-0 away at Motherwell, but insisted he wasn’t ready to take the job at that point.
With another 12 months under his belt as a number two, McCulloch has the opportunity to take the job, at least on an interim basis until the end of the season, and prove he has what it takes to be a decent manager, something he’s building himself towards with his coaching role.
Kilmarnock fans might be wary about another Assistant being promoted to the managers role, especially as Locke was not popular and overseen some horrendous defeats. Then again, is the money there for them to attract a more proven manager?
There is also the boardroom uncertainty to take into consideration. With the popularity of Michael Johnston at an all time low, and mixed messages coming out of the club regarding the clubs finances, some potential candidates might opt out of applying for the job.
One thing Kilmarnock need to do is ensure this appointment is the right one if they are to get back to being a regular contender for a top six position rather than flirtation with relegation.
Lee Clark has got them into a position that is somewhere in between, time will tell what direction they move in the wake of his departure.