Lewis Irons at Fir Park
With both teams fighting for a top six place, a single first half strike from local boy Stephen O’Donnell was enough to give Kilmarnock a win and hoist them over Motherwell into sixth spot.
However, ‘Well’s performance from a hectic start to a frenzied finish merited at least a point as the defensively organised Rugby Park side desperately clung on to their slender lead.
As the old cliché goes, the Fir Parkers will play a lot worse and win, as every player tirelessly pressed the visitor’s goal for virtually the entire game, without producing a clinical finish their build up play deserved.
Suspension forced Cedric Kipre to sit out his first game of the season, allowing Elliot Frear to make his first start of the year in an other wise unchanged ’Well.
In a frantic first 30 minutes, both the home fans and the healthy contingent of 1200 from Ayrshire were entertained with fast open football.
Kilmarnock were first to threaten after two minutes when Kris Boyd used his experience to turn inside the box before curling short just beyond the post.
‘Well responded immediately with three great chances inside the next eight minutes. Firstly Curtis main had his snap shot deflected behind and when Jamie MacDonald spilled Craig Tanner’s corner, Main reacted quickest only to see his effort blocked inside the six yard box.
Frear, looking lively down the left, then swept in a low cross which Tanner directed narrowly past before Charles Dunne’s long ball was nodded by Main only to be smothered by MacDonald.
At the other end, Tom Aldred was called upon to block consecutive shots from Stephen O’Donnell and Eamonn Brophy.
However, most of the play was towards the visitor’s goal as series of crosses stretched the Killie back four.
With 15 minutes played Dunne’s cross found Main six yards from goal but his header was comfortably held by MacDonald.
Five minutes later, a quick break down the other wing saw Andy Rose release Chris Cadden and, although his cross eluded the ‘Well front two, Kirk Broadfoot was lucky to see his attempted clearance rattle off the foot of his own post.
Kilmarnock were perhaps equally fortunate a minute later when Scott Boyd’s tug on Nadir Cifti’s jersey inside the box went unpunished, as the grounded striker appealed for a penalty.
Main then forced another save from MacDonald before his loose ball led to Kilmarnock’s goal largely against the run of play.
There looked little danger when O’Donnell took possession of the ball 40-yards out but after a couple of strides towards the home goal the full back hit a sweet grounder just inside Trevor Carson’s right hand post, to give his side a lead to defend.
That stunned the ‘Well players momentarily but they should have equalised three minutes later. A cute flick from Cifti sent Cadden racing into the box but with Tanner waiting unmarked the Scotland under 21 man drove his shot across and wide of goal.
Despite being behind at the break the Fir Park men refused to sacrifice their passing game which had Killie pressed into their own half for almost the entire second half.
And within three minutes of the restart ‘Well came within a foot of deserved equaliser when Aldred met Frear’s inswinging corner only to see his header blocked on the goal line.
A long ball over the Killie defence found Main out pacing Boyd before volleying the ball narrowly wide of target. From another Frear corner, Carl McHugh’s hooked shot towards goal was deflected behind off the back of a Killie defender as the play towards the visitor’s goal became almost incessant.
Desperate to breakdown a well disciplined Rugby Park defence, Stephen Robinson committed his three substitutes, but it was the tireless running of Main which continued to pose a problem and there were strong claims for a penalty when he was caught by Scott Boyd as he raced towards the six yard box.
With 12 minutes remaining, Main’s efforts were almost rewarded when he exchanged passes with Tanner before curling a shot agonisingly beyond the far post. And just before the four minutes of added time, Tanner’s curled corner bounced equally close to the other post.
In the final minute, and perhaps summing up a frustrating afternoon for ‘Well, MacDonald was booked for time wasting.