“Actions speak louder than words” is a well-worn phrase in football, but sometimes a more…
Although Scottish football has a tendency to throw caution to the wind and surprise us at every turn, this season’s Scottish Premiership could prove to be far more predictable than in previous seasons.
Celtic will most likely win the league title again, Rangers and Aberdeen will battle it out for second and Hibs or Hearts won’t be far behind. After that, we finally get to a spot in the league table that is truly up for grabs. That’s probably where Kilmarnock and Steve Clarke come in to play.
After a superb debut season at Rugby Park, Clarke will be hopeful of once again proving his Kilmarnock side can be the best of the rest and claim a top-six spot next May. But can Killie really pull off a miraculous achievement all over again?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sure, you could make an argument that Clarke’s side relied a little too much on Kris Boyd’s goals, but besides that just about everything that could have gone right did when the manager walked in the door. And Kilmarnock fans should be confident in the Ayrshire tactician doing it all over again this season.
Rather than copying other mid-table Premiership clubs in the annual clear outs and scatter-gun signings that tend to happen each summer, Kilmarnock did a superb job of tying down the vast majority of their key players to new contracts between January and June and have therefore had an enjoyable, quiet summer.
However, that’s not to say that they haven’t lost some notable faces. Central defender Gordon Greer left Rugby Park this summer alongside backup full-backs Aaron Simpson and Steven Smith. Yet the most obvious loss from last season’s superb run is midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu.
The central midfielder was at the heart of some of Kilmarnock’s most superb victories over Celtic and Rangers last season and will surely be missed by Clarke as he tries to recreate what his team achieved last season. A player like Mulumbu doesn’t come along all that often for a club like Kilmarnock and although his time in Ayrshire may have been fleeting, his performances will be remembered by fans for years to come.
As previously mentioned, Kilmarnock pumped most of their resources into renewing expiring contracts this year so it’s no surprise that the club have remained relatively conservative in this summer’s transfer window.
That’s not to say that Clarke or the club don’t have any money to spend, but rather that the former Chelsea coach has managed to keep a hold of the vast majority of last season’s squad and therefore very little has needed to be addressed with the arrival of new players.
Greer’s departure has adequately been covered with the arrival of 22-year-old central defender Stuart Findlay from Newcastle, along with Ross Millen at right-back from Queen’s Park. Bournemouth left winger Mikael Ndjoli has also joined on loan and should be a handy option going forward. No replacement for Mulumbu has arrived, however, Clarke is likely to rely on Gary Dicker and Alan Power to keep the middle of the park from getting too exposed this season.
With a welcomed, pragmatic approach to the new season, Boyd told BBC Scotland this week that Kilmarnock would be simply looking to recreate last season’s top six finish in light of the fact that the top five spots in the Premiership should be taken by the five largest clubs in the country.
For the most part, the Killie striker is spot on. Clarke’s team will be without Mulumbu this time around, but they still have the foundations and almost all of the key players that propelled them up the league table once the manager arrived. Boyd should continue scoring goals, Jordan Jones should continue terrifying defences and Kilmarnock’s defensive unit should remain resolute against Premiership foes.
Clarke may have to be wary of renewed ambitions from the likes of Motherwell and St Johnstone below them in the table, but equally he and his squad should relish the chance to once again go toe-to-toe with the likes of Hibernian and Hearts – both of which look anything but composed or altogether convincing ahead of the new campaign. Top six should be the aim for this coming Premiership season and there’s very little reason why Kilmarnock can’t do exactly that.