Saturday's Betfred Cup tie between Kilmarnock and Hamilton Academical has the potential to be season-defining for both sides.
Fixture already key for both sides
For the Ayrshire side, a disastrous European campaign has been followed by a poor start to the league, while the Lanarkshire side, by contrast, will be buoyed by a relatively strong league and cup opening.
While a win for Angelo Alessio's men has the potential to kick-start their season, a defeat could see further dissent from supporters already worried that the departure of Steve Clarke to the Scottish national side will result in a fall in grace. A further reverse may mean pressure on the Italian at an extraordinarily early point in his reign.
Accies, on the other hand, will be looking to build on their league win against the Rugby Park side last weekend. A further victory may give the side from New Douglas Park confidence that they can not only progress in the cup competitions but secure their SPFL status far earlier than in previous seasons.
Hamilton emerged unbeaten from the Betfred Cup group stages and rebounded from a poor opening day showing at Ross County to beat last season’s third-place finishers Killie last week. Goalscorer Lewis Smith told the club website “to get three points was really important and hopefully now we can kick on from it.” Kilmarnock forward Rory McKenzie, meanwhile, told Killie TV that “football is all about confidence and we probably are a bit low, but the game on Saturday gives us a great chance to rebuild.”
‘I see the team playing good football’
Kilmarnock’s manager was also bullish in speaking to the media today, with Allessio remarking that "I see the team playing good football with fluency, creating plenty of chances.” However, the Italian also told BBC Sport "at the same time, we're being punished for every defensive error at the moment.”
Despite coming at such an early point, this game has taken on real significance for both sides. While Killie will enjoy home advantage and will start as favourites, Hamilton will possibly be more confident than usual. Expect a close one at Rugby Park on Saturday.
Both sides have no new injury concerns following last week’s encounter, so near identical sides are expected to take the field. However, Hamilton will be missing defender Brian Easton who was sent off in the corresponding league fixture last week. Brian Rice is otherwise expected to put out an unchanged side.
Predicted Line Ups
Branescu, O’Donnell, Broadfoot, Findlay, Taylor, Burke, Power, Dicker, McKenzie, Brophy, Millar
Fon Williams, McGowan, Stubbs, Hunt, McMann, Gogic, MacKinnon, Smith, Alston, Cunningham, Oakley