ONLY Steve Clarke knows whether his dour demeanour is an act but even this most morose of managers can’t pretend any more that Kilmarnock’s season is still about safety.

He was at it again after his team's 2-0 win over St Johnstone at Rugby Park, a win as simple as any he has watched since arriving in Ayrshire at a club with three points from eight games and bottom of the league.

Clarke spoke about it being just another three points away from the relegation fight and him only wanting to be 16 points clear of 12th place at the split. Come on, now.

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Kilmarnock are now fifth in the Premiership and the way they are playing could catch Hibernian in fourth. They have a home replay against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup and the winner of that game would be favourites to beat Motherwell at Hampden in the semi-final.

Since November, only Aberdeen (twice) have beaten Clarke’s men over 19 games. And it’s not a case of grinding out results. Kilmarnock supporters are being treated to the best football they have seen for an awful long time.

“The manager has been brilliant,” stated winger Jordan Jones who on Wednesday night turned in an outstanding individual performance.

“Anyone on the outside looking in can see how well he has done and, when you’re working for him, you feel like running through brick walls for him. I can’t praise him enough.

"The lads have completely bought into what he wants to do and maybe made his job a little bit easier by showing a good attitude.

"Anyone can get on the ball when we’re winning like we did on Tuesday night but it was good to go in front and dominate. We’ve been two down before and come back so that shows character.

“The gaffer is really calm and that filters through to the players so he deserves great credit for that.”

Whoever Rugby Park first suggested Clarke as a replacement for Lee McCulloch deserves a medal. The man has been outstanding but then should we be surprised.

Clarke, 54, was first-team coach at Newcastle United, Liverpool and Chelsea, a club in which he made over 400 appearance. He was ridiculously sacked as West Bromwich Albion manager after leading them to eighth, their highest position in the Premier League era, in a season when they recorded a record number of wins and points.

Jones was asked whether Kilmarnock could now catch Hibs, eight points ahead, and his answer revealed the influence Clarke has in the dressing room.

“I don’t know what the gaffer would want me to say,” he said. “I think we need to take each game one at a time.

“Tuesday was the first time he spoke about two games in a row. We spoke before the game and we felt the two games this week – St Johnstone and Ross County – were massive for us in terms of the top six.

“We just want to get as many points as we can. We don’t need to change anything. We just need to keep doing the same things and who knows what will happen.”

Jones, a Northern Ireland international, angered St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright on Wednesday night, apparently for going to ground too easily although it was difficult to see where Wright was coming from.

“The mouth was pouring with blood,” Jones explained. “I don’t know what was going on. He was a little bit annoyed but I’m not here to talk about Tommy Wright. If people make accusations then it motivates me even more.

“Derek McInnes did it after the Aberdeen game last week and said I dived when I clearly didn’t dive. Tommy Wright said I dived on Wednesday. I’m not quite sure if it was when I got my lip burst or whether it was the penalty.

“But neither of them were dives. He can say what he wants but all I want to do is impress Steve Clarke and I feel like I did that on Tuesday night. I don’t want a reputation as someone who does that but I can use it as motivation to shut them up and prove them wrong.

“The gaffer told me after Derek McInnes accused me to take it as a compliment. It happened again on Tuesday night and it was hard not to hear it because I was only five yards away.

“But you just put it to the back of your mind and it spurs you on to do more."

Jones is one of many who has revelled in Clarke's influence.

“I feel I’m in the form of my career but I want to keep working hard to get better and better," he said. "As I said before, the manager is the only one I want to impress.”

Every little thing about Kilmarnock right now is impressive.