Football: Killie's hopes diminish in the heat

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Sigma Olomouc 2 Kilmarnock 0

KILMARNOCK SAW their Uefa Cup hopes fade yesterday as they lost to a goal in each half of their second qualifying round first-leg tie against Sigma Olomouc of the Czech Republic.

The Kilmarnock manager, Bobby Williamson, was left under no illusions as to the size of the task ahead if his team is to progress any further in the competition. "We will have to play exceptionally well in the return leg to save the tie," he admitted. "Sigma played very well and controlled the whole match, basically. We had a 10-minute spell where we might have got back in the game in the second half but it was not to be."

In a match played in searing heat, the Ayrshire side spent long periods on the defensive after the Olomouc midfielder, Jiri Krohmer, capitalised on a badly organised offside trap to give the Czechs the lead in the 26th minute. A second goal by the impressive Radim Konig 12 minutes from time now leaves Kilmarnock with a mountain to climb in the return match at Rugby Park on 25 August.

Williamson opted to start with the same defensive formation that had served him so well in the previous round against the Bosnian side, Zeljeznicar, with Ray Montgomerie augmenting Jim Lauchlan and Kevin McGowne at the heart of the Kilmarnock defence.

It required a timely intervention from Lauchlan to prevent them losing an early goal after seven minutes, when the Olomouc right-back, Michal Kovar, floated in a diagonal ball that beat the visitors' offside trap. On that occasion, the defender stretched just enough to divert Oldrich Machala's snap-shot, but it was similar ploy that undid the Scots for the opening goal.

This time a long ball out of defence by Martin Kotulek found the Kilmarnock defence stepping out as one, leaving two Olomouc players alone inside the six-yard box. One of them, Krohmer, wasted no time in firing a left- foot shot high past a helpless Gordon Marshall in the visitors' goal.

It could have been worse two minutes later, as Josef Mucha was allowed a free header from a corner, but his effort drifted narrowly wide.

Marshall also had to be alert to divert a 20-yard shot from Jiri Barborik wide of his near post shortly afterwards as the home side increasingly threatened to extend their lead.

Kilmarnock's attacking moments in the first half had been restricted to an early 30-yard Paul Wright free-kick that was comfortably held by the Czech side's giant keeper, Jindrich Skacel.

Olomouc fielded three internationals, including their balding striker, Radek Drulak, in their ranks, and it was he who almost almost finished off the game just after half-time with a left-foot strike that flew across the face of goal. Shortly afterwards another sparkling run took him past two Kilmarnock defenders before setting up another chance for Mucha after 51 minutes, but the midfielder's effort was off target.

Williamson's men were struggling to stem the almost constant tide of Olomouc attacks at that stage, although one break out of defence by Ian Durrant on the hour lifted the Scots' spirits. The former Rangers midfielder then split the Czech defence with a glorious long pass to find the advancing Alan Mahood, but the former Morton man could only direct his lob wide.

Williamson sent on his French centre-forward, Jerome Vareille, in place of the tiring Wright, but it was the Czechs who found a second wind and a second, possibly deciding, goal.

Konig jinked past Lauchlan on the right side of the Kilmarnock penalty area after 78 minutes before toe-poking the ball under the on-rushing Marshall to send the raucous home fans into raptures. Kilmarnock rallied in a late attempt to snatch a lifeline, Ally Mitchell's cross almost finding Gary Holt on the end of it, but it was Olomouc who finished the stronger.

The Czech side's coach, Milan Boska, was understandably optimistic of progressing to the first-round proper. "The result gives us every chance," he said.

Sigma Olomouc: Skacel, Kovar, Ujfalusi, Krohmer, Mucha, Barborik, Drulak, Machala, Konig, Kotulek, Heinz. Substitutes: Ryska, Vlvek, Steska, Kovac, Kucera, Cupak, Pizanowski.

Kilmarnock: Marshall, MacPherson, Montgomerie, McGowne, Lauchlan, Baker, Holt, Durrant, Mahood, Mitchell, Wright. Substitutes: Meldrum, Vareille, Hamilton, O'Neill, Roberts, Bagan, Burke.

Referee: E Ersoy (Turkey).

A sudden family illness has forced Steve Fulton to withdraw from the Hearts squad for tomorrow's Cup Winners' Cup tie with Lantana Tallinn in Estonia.