A CHANGE of chairman at Rugby Park has meant a change of manager. Former Kilmarnock player Ronnie Hamilton took over the club yesterday morning, and his first act was to sack Alex Totten.

After the team's eighth league defeat of the season, at Raith Rovers on Saturday, Kilmarnock slipped to joint bottom place in the premier division. Such a position is far from what the new regime see as acceptable.

``The directors felt that a younger man should be put at the helm and, coupled with the three younger directors taken on board this year, now was a time to make this change, given the club's present position,'' said Hamilton in a statement.

``We felt we should have made progress from last year. I take on board the fact that last season was our highest-ever position in the premier division, but we were looking to improve on that. Apart from Rangers and Celtic we feel we have the best set-up and our position does not mirror that. That was the deciding factor to make the change.''

Majority shareholder, James Moffat, steps down as chairman, but will retain a position on the board. He was in charge for only nine months, replacing Bobby Fleeting in March, when the club's bankers threatened to put the club into administration.

Change in the boardroom has been swift at Rugby Park since the feud between the Fleeting and Moffat factions appears to have been resolved. Fleeting's mother-in-law, Laurel Chadwick, is off the board, and since Moffat assumed the reins, three new directors have been appointed - Troon hotelier William Costley, property developer James Clark, and garage owner Robert Wyper.

Hamilton is not going to wait to make changes at Kilmarnock, and his ambitions are great. A retired chartered accountant, he played for Kilmarnock in their greatest era in the sixties, finishing top scorer in the year that they won the league championship in 1965.

He has had a long association with the club, scoring twice on his debut as a 16-year-old in 1961. He is in his second period on the board, having resigned in 1991 for ``business'' reasons. He rejoined '94, and having given up his full-time commitment to accountancy, intends to employ all his energies at Rugby Park.

At 51, he is a year older than the man he thinks is too old to manage his club.

For Totten the decision came as a surprise. ``I am extremely disappointed,'' he said. ``I was called in by Ronnie Hamilton in the morning and told that I had run out of time. It came as something of a shock, because I felt we were only two wins away from moving well up the league.''

Bobby Williamson, the reserve-team coach, will take interim control of the team. He explained that Totten's departure was a surprise to the staff.

``The players are very upset, and so am I,'' Williamson said. ``We've all worked hard for Alex for the last two-and-a-half years and none of us saw this coming. We are all stunned.''

Totten is the fourth premier division manager this season to part company with his club, and his departure will start another round of speculation with the usual suspects being touted for the job.

If the new chairman wants a younger man, then Jim Duffy, at Dundee, will be one of the favourites. He was known to be interested in the vacancy at Hibs until Jocky Scott was made caretaker. However, since then the prospect of Duffy and Dundee vice-chairman Malcolm Reid buying out owner Ron Dixon has re-emerged, and that might make Duffy want to stay at Dens Park.

The supporters choice appears to be Millwall manager, Jimmy Nicholl. Kilmarnock tried to approach him twice to succeed Tommy Burns before they appointed Totten. Nicholl has been in London since February but could be tempted back. His family live in Dollar where his children go to school. Supporters' chairman, Sam Stowe, welcoming Totten's departure, called for the board to approach Nicholl.

``I would love to see the club show a bit of ambition and go for Nicholl, who has shown he can do it in Scotland,'' he said. ``We can't afford to take a chance on an untried manager.''

Williamson has indicated that he wants the job on a permanent basis but has been given no indication of how long he might get to prove himself.

For Totten, this is the second time he has been the victim of over-ambitious chairmen. In December, 1992, he was sacked from St Johnstone by Geoff Brown.

In five years he had taken them from the second division to the safety of a mid-table position in the premier division. That was not good enough to keep him in a job then, and the fact that he has managed to keep Kilmarnock in the top division for the last two years appears not to be enough now.

Saturday's defeat at Raith means that only goal difference is keeping Kilmarnock from last place in the table.

The surprising statistic is that after 13 games last season, Kilmarnock had the same number of points as they have today, 11. Totten went on to take the club to seventh place by the end of the campaign, 11 points clear of the relegation play-offs. Clearly, the new board do not think he can repeat the feat.

Great expectations

q IAN PAUL - Page 33