EIGHTEEN years of waiting for European Football at Rugby Park, obliterated after 180 minutes against part timers from Wales!
This is not what Kilmarnock fans expected after 19 months of hard work under Steve Clarke, who took them from a relegation battle to third place last season before taking the Scotland job.
It took four weeks for the Killie board to name Clarke’s successor. Names like Roberto Di Matteo, Gus Poyet and Paul Clement were linked with the job before the left field appointment of Angelo Alessio was made. Whilst he’s worked as Antonio Conte’s right hand man at Juventus, Italy and Chelsea, Alessio has never been a Manager in his own right so him coming to Scottish Football is a big gamble for both parties.
He’s failed in his first test by overseeing, arguably, the clubs most embarrassing European result to Connah’s Quay Nomads. Having been 2-1 up from the first leg in Wales, Killie should’ve been seeing the tie through on their own turf but found it difficult to break down a dogged Nomads team, whose intention was to frustrate Killie and hit them on the break. With only two shots on target and two goals, it was mission accomplished for the Welsh Runners Up.
For Kilmarnock, there has to be serious question marks over their acitivity this summer, from the recruitment process that led to Alessio’s appointment and the lack of transfer activity.
When Clarke was unveiled as Scotland Manager, he made it clear that he had made a decision weeks prior that he was leaving Kilmarnock at the end of last season. With this in mind, the board should’ve been well prepared for his departure and start working behind the scenes to identify a suitable successor at that point. The fact it took them four weeks, and that the new man only came in just before the players returned for pre-season training, was not ideal. Whilst Billy Bowie and the board will argue they needed time to get the right person into carry on Clarke’s good work, the new manager should’ve been in place within no longer than a fortnight to give them a chance to settle in before the players returned.
Having been linked with Di Matteo, Poyet and Clement, Managers with a decent pedigree, the appointment of Alessio is underwhelming. Yes he’s worked with some of the best players in his time as a coach, but management is a different kettle of fish altogether and the appointment of someone of no managerial experience and little or no knowledge of Scottish Football is a big risk by the Kilmarnock board.
The fact Alessio has only been in the job for four weeks has also hindered the player recruitment process this summer. Before the Europa League Qualifying deadline, only two players were brought in whilst a total of 13 players departed, of which seven returned to their parent clubs following loan spells. This included the loss of Jordan Jones to Rangers, Youssuf Muloumbu back to parent club Celtic (and has since been released) and Kris Boyd to retirement, though the latter became a bit part player in his final season.
Although the majority of the side that were mainstrays under Clarke are still there, this has not been ideal preparation for the new manager and the lack of creativity in the side is alarming. Eamonn Brophy has struggled to hit the same heights since Greg Stewart’s departure in January, and he needs a partner in support to take the goalscoring weight off his shoulders.
That all being said, Kilmarnock should still have been more than good enough to see this tie out, particularly having taken a 2-1 lead back to Rugby Park. Connah’s may not be mugs and did manage to reach the Challenge Cup Final last season before going down 3-1 in the Final to Ross County. However, they were up against Falkirk, Queens Park and Edinburgh City en route to facing the Championship winners and Killie were the third best side in the country. Add to the fact that the majority of Andy Morrison’s team were travelling back to go to work the following morning tells you all you need to know that this was a draw Kilmarnock should’ve negotiated without much difficulty.
As a result of last nights disasterous result, several Killie fans are out of pocket on flights to Belgrade, where they were due to meet Partizan Belgrade had they seen off Connah’s Quay. Instead, they have become the latest victim of embarrassing European exits for our clubs that has had serious ramifications for our coefficient, which has led to the early starts to the season and very short summer breaks for our players.
More importantly for Kilmarnock is how they recover with the start of the Premiership season coming up in a fortnights time. The fans will be wondering just how much of the good work that Steve Clarke done will now go to waste under Angelo Alessio after this damaging result. Good recruitment, getting onside with the current group and grasping the knowledge of Scottish Football is going to be key if he is to prove that he is more than just a good coach and carry on the feelgood factor Kilmarnock have had over the last two years.