Thursday, July 01, 2010

Mixing It With Mixu

Debt stretching to £11 million. 14 players in the senior squad. Finished second bottom of the SPL last season.

Not much that's joyful about Kilmarnock's blues right now.

The 2010/11 season is about survival. Scrapping for every point on the pitch, scraping every penny together off the pitch.

In such circumstances there are probably worse people than Mixu Paatelainen to have in the dugout.

Mixu, opposing defenders will remember, was a rumbustious centre forward. Fans knew that they'd get a whole hearted performance even if they didn't get a goal.

Going from player to coach at St Mirren he looked to be building a solid managerial CV as he won a title with Cowdenbeath and took TPS in Finland to third place in the league.

Then came Easter Road. Leith might not be a managerial graveyard but a spell in charge of the "Cabbage" has certainly stalled a few promising careers.

Mixu came a cropper for his reliance on a utilitarian style of play that fell foul of the footballing ideals so beloved of the Hibs fans. There is a fine line between sticking to long held philosophy and just being precious. Sometimes the Hibs faithful cross that line.

Finishing sixth in the SPL for two seasons running wasn't enough for either the support or the Hibs board. A parting of the ways with Mixu became inevitable.

That doesn't mean Mixu was a failure at Easter Road. At times he was naïve. Often his touchline spats were a needless distraction. The stubbornness of that barrelling centre forward was too near the surface as he took to long to adapt tactics and make changes in games.

But he inherited a squad that had suffered the bizarre exit of John Collins, the loss of big players and the internecine warfare of dressing room factions.

That was a steep learning curve for a young manager who had benefitted from a core of full time players at Cowdenbeath and a generous owner at TPS. But he did the job pragmatically and avoided the periodic plummets that Hibs have endured over the years.

If sixth place wasn't enough at Easter Road it will be more, much more, than enough at Rugby Park.

Stubborness, even the ability to ignore the aesthetics and revert to the long ball, will be plus points for Kilmarnock next season. Where touchline arguments were a distraction at Hibs they might, if they're well chosen, prove an inspiration in Ayr.

At times it might not be pretty but it might be effective enough to save Kilmarnock. At least they know their manager won't be going down without a hell of a fight.

> Mixu will be assisted by Kenny Shiels who has left Tranmere to join him at Rugby Park. Kenny's son Dean was a player at Easter Road under Mixu.