IT’S been almost 14 months since Steve Clarke took the reins at Kilmarnock and he’s been performing minor miracles with them ever since. Last season the former West Brom manager inherited a Kilmarnock side lingering at the foot of the Premiership table and seemingly destined for relegation, yet managed to guide the Ayrshire club to a highly-respectable fifth place finish.

Perhaps most impressively, Clarke managed to achieve this with largely the same playing squad as his predecessor Lee McCulloch and has demonstrated the value that a well-organised coach can bring to a side. This season, Kilmarnock have shown no sign of letting up and continue to defy expectation.

In the previous campaign, Clarke averaged 1.83 points per game - McCulloch’s rate at the same club was almost precisely half of this at 0.92 - and this season, there has been a marginal increase in this regard. Clarke has the third-highest points per game of any Premiership manager this season, with only Brendan Rodgers and Steven Gerrard collecting more on average.

There may only be a slight increase in the number of points Kilmarnock are gaining this season compared to last, but the team look more well-drilled, organised and harder to beat than ever before. The stats bear this out - Kilmarnock’s goals scored, goals conceded and expected goals for and against have all improved, compared to last season.

Put simply, Clarke has tightened things up at the back while simultaneously making his side more effective in front of goal. That isn’t to say they’re exactly free-flowing, but their total of 22 goals so far this season is the fourth-highest in the league. Only Rangers, Celtic and Hibernian have scored more. Kilmarnock are also tied with Rangers with the third-best defence in the Premiership.

Under Clarke’s leadership Kilmarnock have always excelled at seeing out a lead and sitting back, playing on the counter and often grabbing a second goal to kill the game. The tactical discipline Clarke has instilled in his side is remarkable. In the 19 Premiership games last season before the split where Kilmarnock took the lead they lost just one, winning 15 of them. It’s a similar story this season; the Ayrshire club have led in nine league games, losing one and winning the rest.

Perhaps most impressive, however, is Kilmarnock’s record at coming from behind. Clarke had some success last season in this regard - Kilmarnock’s total of 12 points gained from losing positions was the fourth-highest tally in the Premiership before the split - but this year, Kilmarnock have shown that falling behind is of little importance to them.

Kilmarnock have already picked up 14 points from losing positions this season - a mightily impressive total. To put that into context, the next-best team at gaining points from losing positions this season is Aberdeen with just five. This has been a key factor in the Rugby Park club’s development over the last 14 months and means that this season, you simply cannot write Kilmarnock off.

Equally impressive is Clarke’s record against the Premiership’s top teams. Kilmarnock have faced Celtic four times since Clarke’s installation, winning twice and drawing the other two. Fixtures against Rangers have always been tightly contested - after six games, each side has won two, drawn two and lost two. Against Hearts, Kilmarnock have won three and drawn one of their five encounters.

Clarke’s record against Aberdeen and Hibs does dip a little and at present is the only black mark against his name during his time at Rugby Park. In thirteen games against the pair, Kilmarnock have only won twice, losing on eight occasions. Having said that, there are still green shoots of progress here too - Kilmarnock beat Hibernian 3-0 last weekend, and left Pittodrie with all three points back in September. Admittedly, Clarke’s side came off second best in their most recent encounter with Aberdeen, but the earlier win has shown that Clarke does have the ability and tactical nous to outfox McInnes.

Ultimately, it’s hard to define just what Kilmarnock’s limitations are under Clarke. When the former Aston Villa manager was given the job, the appointment was seen as something of a coup for the club and his brief was simply to avoid relegation. Clarke achieved this - and then some - and this season has built on the previous one’s success. With Hearts and Hibernian falling by the wayside in recent weeks and Aberdeen struggling for consistency, Kilmarnock look like the most likely candidates at present to finish in third place. It appears as though for as long as Clarke remains in the Rugby Park dugout, Kilmarnock will continue to be no pushovers. Their progress has been startling and is showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon.