Killie’s first shootout win since 1984 seals bonus point against Morton
A first shootout success in almost three decades gave Killie a bonus point in their first home game in front of fans since the first lockdown, after a first senior goal for Lewis McGregor and a injury time Kyle Connell header had the teams level after 90 minutes. Seán McGill reports.
The noise from the stands of Rugby Park far exceeded your average crowd of 2000, as the Kilmarnock players ran out onto the pitch in front of their home fans for the first time in over 500 days.
It almost took just three minutes for the Killie faithful to see their first goal in almost a year and a half. Nice interplay from stalwart Rory McKenzie and new boy Fraser Murray saw the latter drive towards goal from a central position before unleashing a fierce strike, but his effort was tipped onto the bar by Jack Hamilton in the Morton goal.
It would be a man in yellow though who scored the first goal with fans back in Ayrshire. A high ball was kept alive by frontman Gozie Ugwu and the supporting skipper Kyle Jacobs, before being worked out to the left-hand side of the box. There stood Lewis McGregor, who took a touch inside and curled the ball beautifully off the inside of the post to put the visitors ahead with 16 minutes on the clock.
A quick reaction was on the minds of the Killie players, with Murray and McKenzie again linking up well. A short corner found McKenzie on the edge of the box, who looked to emulate McGregor with a precise curling effort, but the strike was the wrong side of the post to level the game.
With the lively McKenzie forced off with injury, Blair Alston – scorer in Saturday’s win over Clyde – looked to unlock the Morton defence. A cute through ball allowed Fraser Murray to drive in the box, with the winger showing awareness to cut the ball back, but the onrushing Brad Lyons’ swipe didn’t connect and the Ton cleared.
Good awareness was on display from the visitors too, in the form of an audacious Ugwu effort. The striker spotted Killie keeper Zach Hemming a fair distance off his line and tried his luck from 30 yards, scaring the home fans for a moment, but a collective sigh of relief could be felt as the ball dropped wide in the last meaningful action of the half.
Relief was again a prominent emotion from the stands just a few minutes into the second half as a Kilmarnock corner quickly turned into a Morton counter. Former Killie boy Robbie Muirhead drove into the opposition half and had the opportunity to slip in McGregor, instead electing to shoot himself. Hemming parried the shot to the feet of McGregor, who was crowded out before he could try his luck.
Fraser Murray seemed keen to impress his new supporters and so nearly gave them the equaliser they craved with a thunderous strike from distance. With Hamilton helpless, only the crossbar could deny Murray, and the fans, of what would have been a stunning goal.
A fresh start was the hope for Killie fans after last season’s relegation. Their lack of cutting edge, which hampered Killie massively before the arrival of Kyle Lafferty, and their affinity for defensive mistakes were both on display as the second period wore on. Conversely, Morton were comfortable in their shape, closing off passing lanes to frustrate the opposition to great effect.
Eventually though, Killie found a way through the blockade. Murray was again at the heart of things, his deep cross was then headed back across goal by Jason Naismith, finding substitute Kyle Connell, who nodded home to send the game to penalties.
It was the worst possible start for Killie with Chris Burke firing over the first penalty, but Lewis Strapp missing the visitors’ second spot kick allowed the Ayrshire side back into the shootout.
Hero in injury time, Connell saw his penalty saved and handed Morton the initiative, however, consecutively missed penalties from Brian McLean and captain Jacobs, denied by a stunning save from Hemming down to his left, allowed Blair Alston the opportunity to slam home the bonus point-winning penalty for Tommy Wright’s men and secure a first penalty shootout win for the club since 1984.
It’s all to play for in Group G heading into the final matchday. Every team still has a chance of qualifying on Saturday, although Morton would require a miracle at home to Clyde. Killie entertain current table toppers Stanraer, where they may require a resounding victory to get through to the knockout stages.