THEY didn’t sneak it. There were no backs to the wall.
No smash and grab, no sucker punch, no Dick Turpin masks for the bus ride home.
In short, cliche-writers need not apply for the job of describing this latest rung on Killie’s ladder from the gutter to the stars.
Because this was simply class. It was controlled. It was organised.
And most of all, it was completely, inarguably DESERVED.
The many inadequacies displayed by Rangers and their floundering manager are discussed elsewhere this morning, though to be fair they could fill our entire pullout and then some.
This, however, is about Killie. It’s a safe space for all connected with the Rugby Park club, a clear recognition of the fact that the home side didn’t lose this game — the away side won it.
Once again, they confounded everything we had come to expect from them for so long, which is very little.
Bloody hell, their famously grumpy gaffer even laughed and joked his way through the post-match conference, tossing around one-liners like light blue shirts had chucked away possession for 90 minutes.
It was, give or take a nervy opening spell and a couple of lapses of six-yard-box concentration, a perfectly-planned and expertly-executed away day — and it was no fluke, because this was their fifth crack on the trot at the Old Firm without defeat.
From where they were before Clarke arrived, that soulless, aimless gang edging closer and closer to the cliff-edge of relegation and financial catastrophe, it’s a minor miracle of man-management, a steroid-level injection of sheer belief.
There are, of course, so many interwoven strands to what the former West Brom boss has achieved so far; which he, by the way, will tell you is not very much.
There’s the way he’s taken a warhorse like Kirk Broadfoot who, six months ago looked like he’d come back up from down south to graze his way towards retirement, and galvanised him into defending for his very life and galloping forward in every spare moment to link up and overlap.
There’s the contacts he used to snaffle his old Hawthorns charge Youssouf Mulumbu and bring class and composure to what was so recently a headless chicken of a midfield. To watch him giving the calm down sign to his muckers, to see him demand the ball in tight situations and create space from nothing, was a masterclass.
There’s the bonus of getting long-term injury victim Gary Dicker back to sit in front of the defence, a one-man insurance policy. There’s the way he nurses Saturday’s matchwinner Kris Boyd through gathering age and waning fitness to produce goals as priceless as the one he poked home here.
Most impressively for me, though, there’s the way he’s taken a core of guys who were previously going nowhere and given them a purpose, a direction, a new lease of life — none more than left-back Greg Taylor, for me the best of the lot here, despite Mulumbu’s savvy, Broadfoot’s bravery and Boyd’s predatory instincts.
I used to watch this lad and think that, sure, he had talent — but where was he going? What was expected of him? What, even, was his position? He struck me as someone who, with the right guidance, could make something of himself but who, unless guidance arrived pronto, could have ended up playing League One.
Enter Clarke. And, boom, there it is; all the solidity, all the confidence, all the game-awareness any manager could ask for from a 20-year-old who has come through the ranks.
The Killie diehards bounced and roared when the job was done, believing and yet somehow disbelieving at the same time, still wondering how they managed to snare a new dugout team — for Clarke’s No2 Alex Dyer and the rest of a reshaped backroom have all played a huge role in the upsurge — who should, in all honesty, be doing their stuff at a far higher level.
From the opening day of the league season, Killie won two of 16 games. That took them up to the start of December, since when they’ve lost twice in 19, one of them on penalties.
Saturday afternoon at an ever-more-mutinous Ibrox was when all the hard graft they’ve put in under Clarke and Co came together in a result that should in itself have surprised few but which was still remarkable for just how little stress it entailed.
Yes, Russell Martin sclaffed a point-blank header wide in the first half then smashed another against the junction of post and bar in the second.
Yet the truth is that, even when Graeme Murty blew the big trumpet and went with a highly-paid, highly-experienced yet highly-unlikely front four of Jason Cummings, Kenny Miller, Alfredo Morelos and Jamie Murphy, there was no great cavalry charge to withstand.
Why? Well, Rangers had numbers, but Killie knew how to put two and two together.
If Boyd had more legs, he’d surely have run clean through on to a Greg Docherty mistake and finished in the first half, rather than, in Clarke’s grinning words, gone into reverse.
If his partner Eamonn Brophy put on less pre-match gel, he might have buried a header from Broadfoot’s cross rather than skimming it across goal.
And if Rangers had heeded the warnings their escapes flashed up, they might have reacted quicker when, nine minutes after the break, Mulumbu wheeled and shot, Wes Foderingham could only push it into traffic and Boyd did what his brain won’t let him NOT do, lunging with his studs to settle the points.
He’d written in this paper on Saturday of his surprise, and it may well have been false modesty, at being higher up the scoring charts than any Old Firm frontman.
But when you see the tension in Morelos’ body when a carbon-copy rebound fell to him at 3-2 down against Celtic last weekend, then compare it to how naturally Boyd took his chance here…well, there’s your answer.
There’s why he gets called fat and slow and lazy and blahdy blah, yet he’s notched 20 yet again this season.
TALK WAS KEYKirk Broadfoot says Clarke's team talk inspired Kilmarnock to Ibrox victory >
JIM DUFFYSteve Clarke knows how to understand his players and get best out of them >
RANGERS 0 KILMARNOCK 1Boyd scores and Mulumbu shines as Gers suffer record-equalling loss >
HOME SICKThe numbers behind Rangers equalling abysmal century-old record at Ibrox >
TOP TEAMKris Boyd wants to turn Killie into an established top six team for years to come >
GOALS GALOREKris Boyd reveals why he didn't celebrate against Rangers at Ibrox
Clarke uses his spearhead perfectly, the same way he seems to with all the men at his disposal. He knows when to set up to defend, when to set up to attack, he gives clear and conise instructions in training, in the dressing room and in play.
He is, in short, a really good manager who is creating a pretty good team.
Rangers punters might well be thinking right now that there’s a lot to be said for it.
Source : https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/sport/football/2382706/kilmarnock-steve-clarke-man-management-rangers/