Saturday, 5 May 2012

Kilmarnock 0 St Mirren 2

With stories falling through left, right and centre, it had been an ominous start to the week at the Mail on Sunday’s Scottish fortress. A night’s escapism was desperately required to re-focus the mind and a mid-week programme of SPL fixtures duly obliged. 
The sun has almost set on the Scottish season and this match at Rugby Park was akin to a fumble around for the light switch in the dusky twilight - searching for illumination and something to look forward to over the dark emptiness of pre-season. 
Absolutely nothing was riding on this fixture, excepting the dubious honour of topping the post-split bottom sextet of the league, but I managed to select my football wisely for once and saw a game of passable entertainment. 
While not quite understanding why I wanted to go 40 minutes out of Glasgow to watch a random match with zilch riding on it, my lovely colleague Fiona kindly offered to give me a lift. And so I duly added the town of Kilmarnock to the mental bank of places that I’ve been to, had a look at and - while not wishing to condemn or criticise it in any way - would not be rushing back to. I’d done something similar with Warrington last week. 
Rugby Park - a surprisingly large ground - was the fifth I’ve been to in Scotland to date and I noticed when I added it to the useful Football Grounds app that I’m one shy of a century visited, not a bad milestone considering 95 per cent have been done in the last four years. The magical mystical football tour continues apace. 
Out of those one hundred, I’d wager the pies at Kilmarnock are among the top five. The Killie Pie was so renowned it came with its own full-page advert in the programme with its slogan written in three languages! So who was I to question such international standing? I wasn’t disappointed - lean, boiling-hot meat was encased in crumbly, flaky golden brown pastry and sloshed within a lip-smacking gravy. 
Subserviently, I scoffed the first and ambled back for a second, which I half-ate and then tweeted a picture of to Andy Picken, my Saints-supporting colleague who was absent through man-flu. He claimed the pie looked disgusting in my pic. Sacrilege and jealousy, I say!
Bizarrely, a flock of hungry-eyed seagulls circled my section pre-match, wheeling around and occasionally dive-bombing for an errant flake of Killie Pie. The gulls surprised me as I’m fairly certain Kilmarnock is landlocked...
As the two sides trotted out to little fanfare I suspected the birdlife might be the better entertainment. I was wrong as an excellent first-half packed with chances unfolded. The visitors from Paisley took the lead on their first foray forward - Stephen Thompson (not to be confused with team-mate Steven Thompson) flicked a long-ball on to Paul McGowan, who lurched clear. 
Still with a lot of work to do, McGowan was aided when Killie’s two centre-halves humorously tackled each other and finished past keeper Cammy Bell from close range. The 500-odd from Glasgow over to my right burst into song but quickly remembered the lack of occasion and piped down. The home faithful around me moaned audibly. 
They should have leveled almost immediately, but Craig Samson pulled off an improbable double save from Gary Harkins and Jamie Fowler’s easier-to-score-than-miss follow-up. At the other end, Bell denied Nigel Hasselbaink twice in quick succession but St Mirren were having so much joy attacking down the left that further punishment was inevitable. Killie’s right side were busy with a 45-minute daydream. 
It was two on the stroke of half-time - the lively Jeroen Tesselaar once again skipped clear down the left and delivered on a plate for Thompson to score with a clinical volley. The locals slinked off for another helping of pie. 
I didn’t join them and instead stayed seated for one of the better half-times I’ll ever see. First, Killie skipper Manuel Pascali was paraded out to announce the signing of a new four-year contract. He mustered something in broken English cliche about wanting to win more trophies (Killie won the League Cup this season) and was rewarded for his loyalty by being asked to draw the raffle. 
After some cheerleaders, a bloke came mighty close to pocketing two grand by hitting the crossbar from 50 yards. Then the home mascot - Nutz the Squirrel - cavorted along the touchline to some Lady Gaga before, inexplicably, pointing into the crowd, raising his right arm and goose-stepping along. I think Nutz may be a closet racist!
As darkness descended, the second-half was pretty bland. Killie threatened intermittently and stuck gamely to their passing game. It was more tick-tock than tiki-taka, but it did result in a penalty when McGregor handballed, only for Dean Shiels to see his ruler-straight spot-kick repelled by Samson’s legs. Not a bad night out. 
Next Match: Another new Scottish ground in Tynecastle as Hearts face St Johnstone on Sunday.