Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes praised his team for achieving their primary objective of staying in the cinch Premiership after they beat Ross County 3-1 at Rugby Park to avoid a relegation play-off.

The Ayrshire side, who were promoted from the Championship a year ago, have spent most of their first season back in the top flight in a dogfight at the foot of the table.

But they managed to get themselves out of the bottom two going into the final weekend of the campaign and then held their nerve to stay in 10th place by defeating County and consigning their opponents to a two-legged play-off against Partick Thistle.

“It’s a huge pat on the back for my players in how they have dealt with the last few games,” said McInnes.

“We are pleased we have met the demands for this season to stay in the league.

“I would have taken 40 points at the start of the season all day long.

“In the last 18 months we have got the team up and we have kept the team up, but the demands shift again now.

“We have to be ready for next season but we also have to recognise the effort involved in getting the job done.”

Killie took a first-half lead through Brad Lyons before further goals in the second half from Danny Armstrong and Kyle Vassell either side of a penalty from County’s Yan Dhanda.

“Danny has carried the fight all season for us and it was fitting that he got the all-important second goal,” said McInnes.

“Then when we needed that calmness at 2-1, Vassell came up with the big moment.”

County boss Malky Mackay lamented aspects of his team’s play at both ends of the pitch as they failed to get out of the play-off spot.

However, he was determined to accentuate the positives of their finish to the campaign after they fought their way into 11th place having been cast adrift at the bottom following a 6-1 defeat away to Hearts five weeks ago.

“When we were beaten 6-1 at Tynecastle and went four points adrift I don’t think anyone gave us a chance of still being in the division,” he said.

“For us to come off the bottom and not be the relegated team, I’ve got to give real credit to team.

“I’ve got to look beyond today when I thought we could have been better. I’ve got to put it in perspective and realise the effort the group have put in over the last few weeks to climb off the bottom and give ourselves a fighting chance on the last day of not being in the play-off position.

“If somebody had said after Tynecastle, I’ll give you the play-off position now, I think most people would have been thinking ‘you’re not going to be there, you’re going to be relegated’. I’ve got to look at it like that.”

County are sweating on the availability of top scorer Jordan White for Thursday’s play-off first leg away to Partick – who have scored 16 goals in their last four games – after he went off at half-time at Rugby Park with a head knock.

“Partick Thistle is undoubtedly going to be a tough game,” said Mackay. “They’re playing well and I’m sure plenty of people will think we’re the underdogs for the game but Ross County are always underdogs in the Premiership so it will not be any different.

“We’ve got two legs to play to stay in the league and we’ve shown over the piece in the last five games we’re a tough team to play against.”

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes hopes in-form striker Kyle Vassell can dust himself off for their do-or-die showdown with Ross County.

Vassell struck twice in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Dundee United, which kept Killie in pole position in the race for cinch Premiership survival.

The Ayrshire side will secure their top-flight status for another year if they avoid defeat against Ross County at Rugby Park on Sunday but they face a play-off if they lose.

Vassell, who missed games in recent weeks before hitting three goals in three matches, went off after a heavy challenge from Charlie Mulgrew in the second half on Wednesday.

McInnes said: “He’s not really trained properly since the Hearts game around seven weeks ago. We’re just getting him out there, to be honest.

“He’s been doing a lot of work with the physio, but we don’t want to irritate his knee.

“He did a wee bit of work with us on Tuesday and declared himself fit, as he does. He turns up for his work and he’s prepared to get his hands dirty.

“He’s so important to me and the team. We’re hoping that he’s all right.

“We’re conscious that it usually takes five or six days for it to clear up, we’ve only got three, so we’re up against it. Knowing him as I do, he’ll be willing to put himself out there.”

Kilmarnock boss Derek McInnes has urged his players to take responsibility ahead of a decisive week in their battle to avoid relegation.

Killie were beaten 1-0 at home by St Johnstone on Saturday and McInnes was left frustrated after seeing his team concede a goal from a set-piece, Saints captain Liam Gordon heading home after 11 minutes.

The Rugby Park outfit now head into their final two league fixtures lying 10th in the cinch Premiership – a point ahead of Ross County and three ahead of rock-bottom Dundee United.

Their last two matches see them travel to Tannadice to face United on Wednesday, before wrapping up their campaign with a home fixture against County.

“It’s not just effort and performance, to get results you need discipline, calmness, composure at the right times and need to keep that sense of what is in front of you,” McInnes said.

“There is also a sense of responsibility, and nothing illustrates responsibility more than set-plays.

“We need to go to Tannadice, we’ve beat them up there in the cup and they beat us in the league – so there’s a performance in us.

“A win there would do everyone the world of good, we need big performances and a lot of responsibility to try get the job done.

“Tenth is where we are, and we need to do so much to remain there.

“We’ve got it all to do clearly, but we want to make sure that on Sunday, coming here to play Ross County, that we are on the back of a positive result and it’s all to play for.”

McInnes admits that losses for both Dundee United and Ross County on Saturday came as a slight consolation in the aftermath of their defeat to St Johnstone.

It means that Kilmarnock’s fate remains in their own hands, and the Killie boss has set his sights on winning a three-way battle for survival.

“I deliberately didn’t know even when I addressed the players the scores for the other teams,” he added.

“You automatically assume that someone has gained on you but it’s another game down and two games to go.

“We’re sitting in 10th spot and as I said a few weeks ago, 10th is first for us.”

St Johnstone manager Steven MacLean heaped praise on the impact of Cammy Ballantyne in their crucial win at Kilmarnock.

The midfielder was handed his Premiership debut at Rugby Park, his first appearance for Saints since returning from a loan spell at Montrose in January.

“He’s been great all week and since I took over,” MacLean said.

“I showed him little bits and pieces on Friday morning and told him he was going to be playing, I don’t think he expected it to be honest.

“I’m delighted for him. I’m just disappointed his dad couldn’t get off work and his girlfriend wasn’t there but he was fantastic. It’s up to him to kick-on now.”

Luke Chambers insists he could “never walk out” on Kilmarnock’s relegation battle even though he will miss England’s Under-20 World Cup campaign.

The 18-year-old Liverpool left-back, who joined Killie on loan in January, asked to be excluded from Ian Foster’s squad for the prestigious tournament which gets under way in Argentina on Saturday.

Chambers will remain in Scotland, facing St Johnstone at Rugby Park on Saturday as the battle to avoid the drop comes down the last three cinch Premiership fixtures.

Following their 2-0 win over Livingston last weekend, Derek McInnes’ side are in 10th place, three points above bottom club Dundee United and just two points behind ninth-placed Saints.

Chambers, part of the England Under-19 side which won the European Championships last year, said: “It was tough but what Kilmarnock as a club and the staff and players have done for me, I could never just walk out on them when they have three games to go.

“I was always going to stay here and help and contribute to the last three games as much as I can.

“There will be opportunities further down the line when I can go with England. They know the situation.

“They were very understanding and agreed with my decision. I have a good connection with the England manager (Ian Foster) and he understands my decision

“I don’t have any regrets. It was the right decision.

“I have only been here a short period of time but the attachment I have got to the club is massive.

“I have endless respect for the gaffer, the players and the fans. It has been amazing. I have learned a lot.

“People might see it as I’m going back at the end of the season but I see it different.

“The belief in the team has lifted after the win last week and I think we can win on Saturday and just take it from there.”

Killie boss Derek McInnes told Steven MacLean that there are no guarantees in football after the interim St Johnstone boss talked boldly about winning in Ayrshire.

Speaking on the Perth side’s official Twitter account, he said: “We will be in the Premiership. We will go to Kilmarnock and we are going to go and win the game, simple as that and what will be after that will be.”

McInnes said: “I just watched Steven MacLean on TV there and he said that they won’t get relegated and they are coming here and they will win the game on Saturday.

“It is hard to guarantee that as any manager.

“All I can guarantee is we will be ready for a tough game and we will do all we can to win a game of football.”

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes believes his players are ready to home in on preserving their Premiership status.

Saturday’s 2-0 win over Livingston at Rugby Park lifted Kilmarnock out of the relegation zone and maintained their impressive form on their own pitch.

They have collected 29 of their 34 points so far this season from home fixtures. With two of their three remaining games at Rugby Park, starting against St Johnstone next Saturday, their fate is firmly in their own hands.

“The confidence we feel at home is clear to see,” said McInnes. “We have now beaten every team in the league apart from the Old Firm at Rugby Park this season.

“We now have to focus on the next two home games. We don’t want to play the situation, we want to play the games.”

After a nervy first half, Kilmarnock took the lead through Kyle Vassell’s 48th-minute strike before Danny Armstrong’s penalty sealed the points.

“If I get a 90-minute performance of what we produced in the second half against Livingston, we’ll be fine,” added McInnes. “I’m pretty sure of that. But a 90-minute performance of the first half won’t get the job done.

“In the first half, we were too pumped up and rushed everything. Half-time couldn’t come quickly enough.

“I didn’t think we were terrible, we still had the best chance of the first half. But there were poor decisions and sloppy clearances, we looked agitated.

“We had a good chat at half-time – no ranting or raving, just a reminder that we are better than we were showing.

“The players deserve all the credit. Knowing how much is at stake, they dealt with it in the second half. I’m sure they will deal with it going forward and it’s important we take that into the remaining games.”

Livingston manager David Martindale has urged his players to get back to basics after a fifth defeat in the last six games saw them slip to eighth place in the table.

“Right now, there are certain individuals within the group who are not doing their jobs properly,” said Martindale.

“The foundations of Livingston are built on people doing the basics right. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it’s my job to find the solution and I will find the solution. I will take that on the chin.

“There is an element within the group with boys who are not going to be here next season for different reasons and they know they are safe in terms of relegation.

“But in the last two or three games, the opposition have shown more desire to do the basics of football better than we are doing.”

Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes praised David Watson for the way he has handled being thrown into the club’s relegation battle after handing the 18-year-old a new contract.

The midfielder has signed a two-year extension which ties the Ayrshire teenager to Rugby Park until the summer of 2025.

After enjoying two League Cup outings at the start of the campaign, Watson made his cinch Premiership debut at Ibrox in March and has gone on to start each of the last six matches.

Recent figures showed only 18 players eligible for Scotland Under-21s had started a Premiership game this season but McInnes is happy to plunge his young midfielder into the heat of the battle.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s visit of Livingston, McInnes said: “It’s always important a club tries to identify early on the better youngsters and tries to get them signed up.

“For a lot of clubs including ourselves getting as many younger ones through and into the team is clearly vitally important.

“We have lost a couple that we didn’t really want to lose in my short time here and there’s one or two more we would like to extend.

“But David has done very well in the first team, it’s not fazed him and he has handled everything that has been asked of him.

“He is always a boy we were drawn to when we first came in, the way he trains, the way he plays the game, and a lot of credit has to go to the development of the younger coaches here.

“It’s a reward for his performances and how he goes about his business. It gives encouragement to everyone in the academy what can be done, regardless of your age, if you are good enough you will get into the team.

“Sometimes youngsters can go in and play with abandonment. You want the boys to play the game anyway rather than the situation.

“Everyone likes to see a younger one coming through, particularly supporters, but David is there on merit.”

Killie play three of their last four league games at Rugby Park and McInnes has challenged his side to make home advantage count.

“You see from Saturday, the three teams at home (in the bottom six) won the game,” he said.

“Our home form has helped keep us in the fight – our away from would get us relegated, our home form would get us in the top six.

“I do feel with three home games coming up, it’s important we win the first one and that dose of confidence would help no end.”

Left-back Ben Chrisene’s season is over because of a hamstring injury while Kyle Vassell remains a doubt because of a similar problem.

“We resisted the chance to play him last week,” McInnes said of the striker.

“He has progressed but again it’s a similar conversation with Kyle and the physios.

“I need certainty that he is going to be OK because it’s that whole risk and reward thing. It’s important we have him fully fit rather than half fit, because if he is half fit you run the risk of extending the injury.

“Hopefully he is leading the line for us but if it takes another game then so be it.”

Highly-regarded Kilmarnock teenager David Watson has committed his future to his boyhood club by signing a two-year contract extension until June 2025.

The 18-year-old midfielder has been part of Killie’s academy for more than a decade and has broken into the first team this term.

After enjoying two League Cup outings at the start of the campaign, Watson made his Premiership debut in March and has gone on to start each of the last six matches in Derek McInnes’ engine room.

“Reaching the first team had been the goal since I joined the club as a seven-year-old, but I feel like my journey here is only just getting started,” he told the Killie website after signing his new deal.

“There are so many factors that make Kilmarnock the right place for the next stage of my career.

“The manager has given me so much belief about what we can achieve over the next two years and I’m excited about the future that lies ahead.”

Livingston manager David Martindale says some members of his squad should not be surprised if they are dropped for the trip to Kilmarnock following their performances in a 2-0 defeat by Ross County.

The Lions started as the better of the two teams in Dingwall but could not find a breakthrough to make the most of their momentum.

Either side of half-time County did find the net through Alex Iacovitti and Alex Samuel – and in the end it was a comfortable victory for the Staggies.

That comfort level left Martindale unimpressed, and he thought some of his players looked as though they had nothing left to play for this season.

“I don’t think up until the first goal the boys were off it, but giving the cheap goal away saw Ross County grow in confidence,” he said.

“There was more desire and intensity from Ross County than us after the goal, so we need to find our feet very quickly.

“We will be playing against other teams who are fighting against relegation, and we have to match that desire that those players will have. It’s my job to make sure the players find that.

“We have four games left now, and if most of the guys got dropped next week I don’t think they could have much to say about it.

“Our squad depth is a challenge at this point, but it’s up to me and my staff to find a solution and we’re more than capable of doing that.”

Martindale’s opposite number Malky Mackay, on the other hand, was delighted with Ross County’s display.

Coming off the back of a two-week wait for redemption after a 6-1 drubbing bby Hearts, Mackay was heartened by his players closing the gap at the bottom of the cinch Premiership table to a single point.

“We only haven’t been at it twice this season, and Hearts was one of them,” he said.

“In most games it has been close, we have been in and around it. Every team we have played, we have made it tough whether we win or lose – so I was really disappointed with that performance.

“It was really important that in the first of the two-week break, we got them back in and put a shoulder around them. They were battered and bruised, in terms of their reputation and they were disappointed.

“Against Livingston, we again made it difficult for a team. I’ve got a group here that will fight to the last to make sure we stay in this division.”

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