Kilmarnock: Is Kyle Lafferty the Scottish Premiership signing of the season?

By Thomas DuncanBBC Scotland

Is it possible to be considered as the signing of the season when you joined in February and have only played eight matches?

Such is Kyle Lafferty's impact at Kilmarnock, it's a question that may begin to be asked more and more.

The Northern Irishman has scored 10 times in his last six games, firing Tommy Wright's side towards Scottish Premiership safety and a place in the last eight of the Scottish Cup.

BBC Scotland examines whether Lafferty could be considered as the most shrewd bit of business this season.

Big name, big impact

The numbers speak for themselves in terms of Lafferty's impact on what was a struggling Kilmarnock side. His 11-minute hat-trick against Dundee United on Wednesday took his tally to 10 goals, six of which have come in the league.

That's the same as Celtic's Leigh Griffiths and Hibernian's Christian Doidge, and just one fewer than United's Lawrence Shankland has managed all season.

He has averaged just over a goal per league game, a far better strike rate than even the top marksmen in the league, albeit the sample size is small.

However, when it comes to the wider impact on the fortunes of his team there are not many players who can rival Lafferty, even in a short spell. And it's not just his goals.

In Wright's first match in charge against Motherwell pre-Lafferty, Kilmarnock swung in cross after cross into the box, with nobody there to put the ball in the net.

One month later, Lafferty scored one, assisted one, and was prominently involved in the build-up to another as Kilmarnock won 4-1 against the same opposition.

His presence and movement creates problems for defences, as evidenced in the previous meeting with United, where two centre-backs were drawn to him as a corner came in, leaving a two-on-one at the back-post and allowing Zech Medley to tap in and earn a draw.

According to Opta, the former Rangers striker has won more than half of his 47 aerial duels in his last three league games, and he won the ball for the second goal against United on Wednesday before finishing the move.

Wright spoke of the "edge" Lafferty has brought to training, and he is always first to sprint over to a team-mate after a goal, often bearing a broad smile. His strong personality adds to a dressing room, and he has a habit of scoring on the big occasion.

The other contenders

It has not been a season with lots of transfer business, but others have come in and made an impact.

David Turnbull has shone for Celtic by adding eight goals and five assists in the Premiership, but even his performances have failed to turn around a poor campaign.

Kevin Nisbet's 14 league goals have been instrumental in firing Hibernian into Europe, and Kemar Roofe has proved a productive addition for Rangers with his 10 goals coming from just 21 top-flight appearances.

Every team will have their own contender, with Shaun Rooney at St Johnstone and Hakeem Odoffin at Hamilton Academical receiving less attention, while remaining pivotal for their sides.

But would any of those clubs' seasons have panned out completely differently if none of the above players had arrived? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But Lafferty's addition looks set to fire Kilmarnock from the foot of the table to safety. You arguably can't have a much bigger impact.

Will he stay at Kilmarnock?

The key question is whether Kilmarnock can keep hold of Lafferty for next season. If they go down, it seems unlikely, and Wright acknowledged on Wednesday that wealthier clubs will take a keen interest if he keeps scoring at his current rate, with the Ayrshire club benefiting from his collapsed move to Romania to sign him.

What could play a key role, though, is Lafferty's own happiness. His career has been beset by controversy, and he has had 13 clubs to date.

At 33 and with his family based in Scotland, now could be a good opportunity to settle down and work with a manager in Wright, who he knows well and who can be trusted to get the best out of him.

Wright says his compatriot is a "nightmare" to manage. But on current evidence, and if Lafferty is happy, it is surely worth it.

"I'm happy here, I know the manager and it's a great bunch of lads," Lafferty told BBC Scotland. "It ticks all the boxes as I'm close to my family here as well.

"The manager just trusts me to lead the line and get the goals and when a manager puts faith in you it's one of the best feelings you'll have as a footballer.

"First and foremost we stay in the league. Once that's sorted we'll probably sit down and talk but I'm more than happy and open to signing a contract. I'm open to offers."

Around the BBC iPlayer bannerAround the BBC iPlayer footer

Top Stories

Around Scottish sport

Elsewhere on the BBC