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Boyd now the master to young apprentice

HISTORY is littered with wise, patient mentors who challenge their pupils, pushing their eager charges towards future greatness.

Lee Ashcroft has been the Plato to Kris Boyd's Socrates. Picture: SNS
Lee Ashcroft has been the Plato to Kris Boyd's Socrates. Picture: SNS

Socrates inspired Plato to expand upon his teachings, to form a great Greek academy and scratch out immortal dialogues. On arriving in Florence, Raphael was left so dazed by the painting of Leonardo Da Vinci that he immediately sought to emulate the elder man's brushed grandeur and conceptual groundwork.

Lee Ashcroft has, in recent weeks, been learning the noble art of defending at the merciless feet of Kris Boyd. A Rangers fan growing up, he was hoiked to matches by his elder brother and grandfather, sitting in the chilly stands watching his hero terrorise SPL defences. "It's weird training with him . . . I don't remember watching any specific game, because he scored in most of them," the 19-year-old chuckled.

Kilmarnock's young defenders are put through their paces in training by the veteran striker, whose movement and tricky sharpness provides the perfect practice for the trials of the weekend. "He's been brilliant," admitted Ashcroft. "You play against him and you know you're not going to come up against anyone better at the weekend. He tries to bully you. He doesn't go easy, but he's quite right to be tough. Afterwards, he'll give some advice - if he's rolled you then he'll tell you to take a step back next time."

It turned out that the strange new world of first-team football - Ashcroft made only his third start two weeks ago - was not actually that peculiar at all. The fact that nearly every side in the league is skint - although perhaps Kilmarnock are more than most - means that youth is being promoted from north to south. These little starlets, all at roughly the same age, have plenty experience of playing against each other.

"A few boys I was playing against at the weekend there - [Ryan] Gauld, [John] Souttar - I've already played against them at under-20s level," Ashcroft revealed. "So you know what they're about. It's good knowing you've played against the players that are doing well, it gives you a bit of confidence."

The Partick Thistle side will still retain the smoke of mystery, though, their youngsters having only just reached the top flight this season. Conrad Balatoni is hoping his side's impressive away form will help them snatch a result from Rugby Park.

"We've picked up most of our points on the road," the defender acknowledged. "Maybe teams at home come out and have a go at you, and that's when we can find spaces, whereas at Firhill they sit in against us. But we have to counteract that."

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