Immediately after securing their highest top-flight league position since 1966, Kilmarnock let all of the goodwill and momentum built up over the previous two seasons under Steve Clarke disintegrate in the palm of their hands.

Replacing the Scotland boss at the end of the 2018-19 season was always going to be a difficult task, but it's safe to say owner Billy Bowie and the Killie board got things spectacularly wrong when they decided to go for Angelo Alessio. The Italian coach had previously worked as an assistant to the world-renowned Antonio Conte at Juventus, Chelsea and the Italian national team, and Killie's hierarchy fell in love with the idea of someone with such esteemed credentials wanting to come work in Ayrshire.

Right from the off it was a complete disaster. Alessio alienated the players by ripping up the gameplan which made them the third best team in the country, then lost any remaining respect they may have had for him when he did a complete U-turn and went back to a Clarke-esque style so as to keep himself in the job after the humiliating European exit to Connah's Quay Nomads. 

With most of Clarke's squad still in place, Alessio didn't perform badly overall as Killie manager in the Scottish Premiership, sitting in fifth when he left, but the tension behind the scenes meant a sacking was inevitable when results took a turn.

He was then replaced by Alex Dyer, who had been kept on from the previous management team. He was very well respected as a coach, but it became evident he didn't have the tactical nous to succeed as the main man, particularly his baffling reticence when it came to the use of substitutes, which often cost a tired Kilmarnock side points late in games.

Tommy Wright seemed like the ideal man to come in and rescue the situation. He'd performed near-miracles at St Johnstone over a sustained period and it was expected he'd do the same at Rugby Park, but he couldn't halt the malaise. Killie were relegated in spectacular fashion by a rampant Dundee over two legs in the 2021 Premiership play-off final, then Wright was booted out himself midway through the following season as they floundered in the Championship. (It's worth remembering, if only for a laugh, that his final match was abandoned after 63 minutes with the score 1-1.)

Then came the decision which eventually stopped the chuckles of laughter from the rest of Scottish football: the hiring of Derek McInnes. 

Now, it hasn't all been plain-sailing. There was an instantaneous improvement in their second-tier form, but it wasn't exactly a runaway success, with second-half goals from Ash Taylor and Blair Alston ensuring the title changed hands from Arbroath to Kilmarnock on the penultimate day of the season. Then there were the struggles of the 2022-23 campaign as Killie barely kept their head above water in the Premiership relegation battle. But McInnes has a rich history of building teams to compete consistently at the top end of Scottish football and this current season demonstrates he's still got it.

The 1-1 draw at Parkhead on Saturday was the third occasion this season in which Scotland's reigning champions have failed to defeat Killie, who've twice beaten them at home, including knocking them out of the League Cup. They've beaten Rangers, won at Aberdeen and currently sit fourth place in the Premiership, a position they've held for a few weeks now.

This Kilmarnock team has a similar make-up to his successful teams at Aberdeen. There's a solid defensive structure with the current squad rich in dependable centre-backs. And while there is an emphasis on hard work, discipline and pragmatism, the team also boasts plenty of ingenuity in the attacking areas with Danny Armstrong, Matty Kennedy and now Greg Stewart following his January switch. Their previous pool of strikers was rather shallow, with nobody really capable of filling the boots of Marley Watkins and Kyle Vassell when they weren't available, but this was rectified in the last window with the arrival of Kevin van Veen.

It's a very impressively assembled squad with McInnes getting it right in the market time and again. They arguably should be a lot closer than 14 points away from Hearts, the runaway best-of-the-rest side, after only picking up one point from two games against the Tynecastle club despite being the better team in Edinburgh and losing a fairly even encounter at Rugby Park. They've also thrown away points from advantageous positions against the likes of Dundee, Hibs and Motherwell. 

It's not just on the field where McInnes has got things right. His influence has helped put Killie regain a solid background structure that seemed to wobble a bit in the post-Clarke seasons. While the 52-year-old isn't quite running the entire show as he pretty much was at Aberdeen, he still has a keen eye on details behind the scenes and where the club is headed in the long-term. In short, he's done a tremendous job and it probably hasn't been said enough this campaign as we've been distracted by Rangers changing managers, Celtic wilting under Rodgers', Hibs and Aberdeen being hilariously inept, and Steven Naismith going from being too unqualified to initially be given the role of head coach at Hearts to being a serious contender for manager of the year.

It was a no-brainer for Kilmarnock when it came to hiring McInnes, but it was an interesting and risky move for the head coach, who has shown in the past that he doesn't accept job offers without seriously thinking them through. While in the North East, he bucked the trend followed by pretty much every modern-day manager by rejecting approaches from bigger clubs in the form of Rangers and Sunderland.

Despite each role offering the prospect of greater resources, a higher profile and more money in his own pocket, he declined to move from Aberdeen when things were going well.

Eventually things turned stale in the Granite City and it was little surprise when the Dons board decided to part ways with their long-term boss following a run of only one goal scored in nine matches. It wasn't an ideal way for the partnership to end, and Aberdeen were trending in the wrong direction over the course of his last three seasons, but having never finished outside of the top four at Pittodrie you wouldn't have thought his next job would involve dropping down a level, especially when it wasn't so long ago his stock was so high.

What McInnes would've seen was the potential witnessed in Clarke's tenure. In almost every season there is a Hearts, Hibs or Aberdeen hilariously prat-falling their way to the bottom six, and with Dundee United stuck in a constant cycle of comedic catastrophe there is the opportunity there for someone else to fill the gap left by St Johnstone and become a regular top-six club. Killie getting third looked like an aberration, especially in light of what happened as soon as Clarke departed the building, but in less than five years they're back close to that level despite a relegation detour. They have McInnes to thank for that. If they can hold on to him, and there's no current indications to the contrary, then their immediate future looks very bright indeed.