THE nominations for Manager of the Year are only weeks away and many column inches in the media will be spent arguing which boss deserves the accolade of Top Dog in season 2017/18.
Naturally, Brendan Rodgers will be favourite to land a second successive gong as he leads Celtic to seven titles in a row and are firm favourites to land a historic second consecutive treble. Jack Ross will also likely be in the frame for taking St Mirren to the verge of promotion to the top flight, whilst Steve Robinson is another outside candidate having taken Motherwell to one National Cup Final and are 90 minutes away from another in the Scottish Cup.
However, one man who will definitely be in the running is Kilmarnock Manager Steve Clarke!
Although he didn’t arrive until October, three months into the domestic season, Clarke’s effect on the club has been remarkable having taken the club from joint bottom of the table and winless to fifth in the table having suffered just three defeats in his 21 League matches. That run has also saw them take four points from a possible six against Celtic and seven points from three matches against Rangers.
Saturday’s 1-0 win at Ibrox came after a gruelling schedule where they’ve played seven games inside a three week period, which included last Tuesday’s heartbreaking Scottish Cup Quarter Final Replay defeat to Aberdeen on penalties. That win emphasises the character Clarke has installed into this Kilmarnock side, one that is able to recover from the physical and mental exhaustion that Dons loss had on them to then go on and beat Rangers in their backyard.
What is more remarkable about Kilmarnock’s turnaround is that it’s been done with, largely, the same squad that Steve Clarke inherited. Aside from Youssouf Mulumbu, brought in November to add class to the midfield, and Aaron Tshibola, the first team squad is the same personnel that struggled so badly at the start of the season that Lee McCulloch lost his job. What Clarke has been able to do is install a belief and tactical nouse into the group that’s produced a winning formula to change the mentality around the club.
Without question, the player who has benefited most from Clarke’s regime is Kris Boyd. Before Clarke’s arrival, Boyd had only scored three goals, two of them in the League Cup, and gave the impression that he was more interested in his media career as it looked as though he was winding down his playing days. Even in Clarke’s first six weeks, Boyd was making more headlines mouthing off about other players and only added two more goals. However, since December, Boyd has been back to his best, scoring 14 goals since then, taking him to the top of the scoring charts and playing with a smile on his face again. It’s also no coincidence that Boyd’s sudden upturn in form has come when he’s cut down big time on his media duties, though having Eamonn Brophy added to the forward line to do the hard work outside the box has played to Boyd’s undoubted strengths inside the box. If you fancy him for top scorer come the end of the season, check out Sportingbet Promotional Code review for the best offers.
Mulumbu has been another key component in the Killie lineup. Having played for Clarke at West Brom, Mulumbu came north of the border having been without a club since being released by Norwich amidst injury concerns preventing other clubs taking a gamble on him. Having built up his fitness, Mulumbu has added class to the midfield with a string of impressive performances as the Killie bandwagon rolls on.
Another statistic that Steve Clarke has managed to transform is the clubs dreadful home form. For years, Kilmarnock have struggled at Rugby Park, in particular since they put in a plastic pitch nearly four years ago, with the controversial surface seen as a curse to the club. Latterly, that curse has been well and truly lifted as Killie have now won nine and drawn two, which includes the replay that they only lost on penalties, of their last eleven games at Rugby Park, a run that has included turning over both the Old Firm teams. Teams now go to Rugby Park in fear rather than expectation such is the transformation of Kilmarnock under Steve Clarke.
The only criticism you can find is their record against Aberdeen. The Dons have inflicted two of the three League defeats on Killie since Clarke arrived and knocked them out of the Scottish Cup, albeit on penalties, taking the overall recent run without victory against the men in red to eighteen matches. Clarke will be hoping to end that run when the two meet in the post split fixtures, presuming Killie remain in the top six, which is all but guaranteed given their dramatic upturn.
It could well be that he misses out having not being able to take Kilmarnock further in the Scottish Cup, with a first triumph since 1997 likely to have seen him undoubtedly earn the award, and that Rodgers will be top boss again.
However, there is no doubt that no manager has made a better transformation of a club than he has in such a short space of time. From relegation contenders that couldn’t buy a home win, to a side with European aspirations and a fortress Rugby Park.
Under Steve Clarke, Kilmarnock fans have reason to believe that there club are heading for greater things next season!