Written by Andy K
On Saturday the 5th of January Jordan Jones, Kilmarnock’s influential left-winger, signed a pre-contract for Rangers which will lead to him playing for the Ibrox club from the start of the 2019/20 season. This deal, taking Jones to Ibrox in the summer along with Dundee’s Glen Kamara, has left a sour taste in the mouth of Kilmarnock fans who have grown to love Jones’ performances in the stripes. Over the past two and a half years Jones has rebuilt his career at Kilmarnock after being released by Middlesbrough following a troubled spell at the Teesside club. However, his social media posts celebrating sealing the Rangers deal have added fuel onto the fire. Many Killie fans are annoyed that Jones seems to be thinking ahead to the summer and may lack the motivation to put in good performances for his current club.
Steve Clarke now has a very difficult predicament on his hands. He now has a player who has his eye on that big move in the close season but Jones is a talent whose agility, crossing and, in the past few weeks, goal-scoring has helped Kilmarnock to third-place in the Premiership. Kilmarnock are only one point behind first placed Celtic and second placed Rangers. Following Jones’ online comments it is unlikely that he will be welcomed back to Rugby Park by the fans. Could he be sold to Rangers for a fee in the January window? Clarke has a big decision to make: does he stick with Jones and if not does he replace him with another player in the Kilmarnock squad or twist and enter the market for a new pacey winger?
Kilmarnock already have some players within their ranks that some fans may look towards in order to step up and replace Jones. One player that Clarke could potentially fit right into his starting eleven is a name that is familiar to Killie fans from the past few seasons; Greg Kiltie.
A local boy, Kiltie grew up in Galston and is a product of Rugby Park’s youth academy. He first broke into the team in 2013 and became a mainstay of Lee Clark’s Killie squad. Unfortunately, injuries have prevented him from cementing his place in subsequent managers’ first choice XIs since then. The high point of Kiltie’s Killie career so far has been the 2015/16 season in which his six goals were instrumental in keeping Kilmarnock in the Premiership. His contribution was particularly important in the second leg of the playoff against Falkirk. With Killie trailing 1-0 from the first leg, and perilously close to falling out of the top flight for the first time since the 1990s, Kiltie smashed home an aggregate equaliser two minutes into the game to settle the jangling nerves in the home end. Later in the match he scored the third of Killie’s four goals to ensure safety and ultimately pave the way for the chain of events that would bring Steve Clarke to the club as manager.
Kiltie is currently fit and has shown good potential in recent appearances in the reserve league. The remainder of the season may well be crucial for Kiltie’s career at Rugby Park as he has been at Killie from a very young age and may well decide that if he cannot be guaranteed first-team football then a move away would suit him best. Clarke last played Kiltie as a substitute on the 15th December against Dundee and may well decide to start Kiltie against Forfar Athletic in the Scottish Cup on the 19th of January.
Mikael Ndjoli is another potentially ready-made replacement for Jones. Initially on loan from AFC Bournemouth until January, Ndjoli’s loan has been extended until May by Clarke. Despite a good start in Killie colours: scoring against Dumbarton, getting a double against Spartans in the League Cup first round and netting against St. Johnstone on the opening day of the league, no more goals have followed. This could be attributed to being unable to nail down a place in the starting eleven as Ndjoli’s form in the English U21 Premier League last season, notching thirty tones for Bournemouth, shows that he is capable of scoring goals. Of course, scoring goals is not the be all and end all for wingers but it does not bode well for suggesting that Ndjoli can slot right into the team in place of Jones.
One other wildcard option that Clarke has up his sleeve is Dom Thomas. Signed by Lee McCulloch in the summer of 2017, Thomas played a part in Kilmarnock’s disastrous start to the 2017/18 season before the arrival of Clarke. Rumours surrounding the winger’s attitude arose and Thomas found himself on loan at Queen of the South. He appeared fourteen times and scored two goals for the Doonhamers. After two appearances for Killie’s first team in the League Cup first round Thomas has spent this season on loan with Dumbarton, impressing their fans with his form and his four goals so far this season. The winger may well feel that the Jones situation could hand him a way into the first team and many of the Killie support will be keen to see how Thomas’ spells in the Championship and League One have brought his game on. Clarke may feel like it is too big a risk to start Thomas in their Premiership return against Rangers at Rugby Park, but the player will more than likely be itching to get back into the first team.
All of this may well be giving Killie’s usually unflappable boss a headache. However, if Clarke were to look to sign a new left-winger it is likely that his contacts from his time in England may well prove to be useful in finding a hidden gem.
So, Killie fans, what’s your take on the Jordan Jones situation? Would you play him, bench him or sell him to Rangers before the end of the window? Do you think Steve Clarke has the players at his disposal to fill the Jones-shaped gap on the left flank or will he need to enter the market for a replacement before January is out?