Thursday, April 25, 2024

Derek McInnes proud of Kilmarnock for securing top-six spot with draw at Hearts

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 30 Mar 2024

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Derek McInnes was proud of his Kilmarnock side for securing their place in the top six of the cinch Premiership with two games remaining before the split.

Killie finished 10th last year but are now guaranteed to be competing for a place in Europe in the closing weeks of the campaign after their 1-1 draw away to Hearts took them seven points clear of seventh-placed Hibernian.

The fourth-placed Ayrshire side claimed their point when Marley Watkins’ stunning second-half strike cancelled out Kenneth Vargas’ 10th-minute header for the Jambos.

“I’m very much a happy man, to do it with two games to spare is testament to so much good work within the club, particularly from the players, the staff, the board,” said manager McInnes.

“The club was in a poor place three years ago, we came in just over two years ago as a Championship team and managed to get out at the first attempt.

“This time last year we were still punching, fighting and scrapping to try and make sure we stayed in the league. A lot of changes in the summer and we’ve managed to deliver a top-six finish, which is terrific.”

McInnes was encouraged by the way his side came back strongly after the break at Tynecastle.

“A response was needed at half-time, we passed up a couple of really good chances in the first half,” said McInnes. “But I thought we were terrific in the second half.”

Hearts boss Steven Naismith felt his side lacked sharpness, with several players having been on international duty, but he was pleased that neither Killie nor St Mirren were able to eat into their 11-point advantage in third place.

“After the international break, another game has gone by and the teams below us haven’t gained any ground on us,” he said. “That’s a positive.

“On the back of a defeat (at Ross County last time out), the biggest thing is that you get some sort of points in the next game and we have done that.

“For me, the hardest games to deal with are the ones after the international breaks. It’s really difficult because four or five of our players didn’t get back into training until Friday.

“We started the game well, asked the question and got on the front foot, and then we get the goal at a good time. But then in those wee moments when we did break through, we just didn’t have that sharpness.

“We knew it was going to be a battle and a fight, Kilmarnock are really good at what they do. They are direct and the one time we don’t set up properly they get their goal. It’s a brilliant finish from Marley, who is having a really good season.”

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