'An obvious choice': Derek McInnes announces new Kilmarnock captain straight after Dunfermline win
Searching for a replacement for Alan Power to wear the armband, McInnes has no shortage of candidates in his dressingroom. But the way Vassell, who arrived on a short-term deal in January following a nomadic career spanning 19 different clubs, has gone about his business since arriving at Kilmarnock has impressed the boss. Vassel has found a permanent residence in Ayrshire, committing to a longer-term deal before last season concluded. Injury deemed him only available as substitute in this Viaplay Cup Group F encounter but in his 15-minute cameo, he bullied the Pars defence and lashed home a fine goal to secure the win. Killie are two wins and two clean sheets from two in a tricky pool that also includes Raith. In the midst of rebuild, McInnes cut a contented figure.
"Kyle is the captain,” McInnes said, putting to be speculation as to who would be given the honour. “I spoke to him at the end of the season and told him I wanted to be captain. He's a man, he turns up for his work, he's got real respect in the dressing room, he cares clearly for the club. He committed really early on after being a bit of a traveller. He's enjoying it here. As a manager, you want to have that with your captain. Rory McKenzie will be vice captain and while I've got umpteen good people – Brad Lyons, Stuart Findlay, Joe Wright – who could do it, Vass was an obvious choice.”
A powerful forward who is clearly one of the most senior men in the Rugby Park squad, his goal was important in this cup tie as Dunfermline gave Killie a stern examination. The visitors took a sixth-minute lead when Fraser Murray tucked home a Corrie Ndaba cutback, but as McInnes admitted, the Pars grew into the match and made it a contest. They had chances of their own before Vassell put the tin lid on proceedings following neat work from David Watson. “We stressed to the players how important it was to win today,” said McInnes, clearly mindful of other Premiership clubs’ struggles in this competition so far. “We didn't get it all our own way, but we get the second goal and it knocks the stuffing out of them.” A win against Raith on Wednesday will seal their passage into the last 16.
Five fresh faces from last season – Will Dennis, Stuart Findlay, Robbie Deas, Ndaba and Matty Kennedy – were in the starting XI. It is the defence that has undergone the greatest surgery. McInnes made note of Bournemouth loanee Dennis, an imposing young goalkeeper who made an excellent save from Andrew Tod to keep the lead in tact. "I've got a good level of defender in,” said McInnes. “We've got three lefties and righties who can play at centre-back and wing-back. I'm enjoying my keeper at the minute. He's young, his second loan, but he makes saves – every day in training, he makes saves. He's really old-fashioned, a desire to keep the ball out of the net."
Dunfermline will now struggle to make it past the group stages but can be pleased with their overall performance against higher-ranked opposition. “For an hour we gave them a good game,” said Pars boss James McPake, who revealed he is close to a new signing. “But more often than not you get out of a game what you deserve. Kilmarnock probably did deserve to win it in the end. They did the hard thing in the game, they scored two goals.”