IN time, supporters will return to Scottish football and players will have the buzz of excitement and feel the pressure of playing in front of a crowd once again.

Kyle Lafferty's biggest fan will not be in the stands to see him in person. His sister, Sonia, will always be with him in his heart and soul, though.

The loss of Sonia, aged just 41, in November last year devastated Lafferty and his family. He would return to Kesh, Co Fermanagh, to carry her coffin as she was laid to rest following a long battle with illness.

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That was the last time that Lafferty was home in Northern Ireland. In recent weeks, he has put down new roots in Ayrshire and his impact at Kilmarnock has been immediate as he looks to ensure Premiership safety this season.

There would have been nobody prouder or more pleased if Lafferty can achieve that aim. There will be no crowd at Rugby Park, but Lafferty will be inspired by his sister and his most passionate supporter.

“She is my biggest fan, without a shadow of doubt," Lafferty said. “She was always there for me.

“The amount of times I’d pick up my phone to text her to say ‘Sonia, stay off Twitter, people are only going to say bad things about me.’

“I’d urge her to ignore them but I’d look and she’d be having a battle with them. She would just never let anyone say anything bad about me.

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“Now not having her around, I go into every game thinking of her. I’m not sure if people can see but I have her name written on my wrist.

“I wrote it before every single game. I like tattoos so I will be getting something for her in the future after lockdown.

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“Everything I do now I think about her. Every goal I score is dedicated to her and my family.

“She managed to see me live my dream by playing for Northern Ireland and Rangers so I’m delighted she managed to see me do that."

Each of the ten goals that Lafferty has scored since joining Kilmarnock would have been welcomed by Sonia and the striker continues to be driven by her memory and her influence.

He is appreciative of the backing received from uncles, cousins and his father, Robert, on his football journey. When he pulls on his boots against St Mirren and Hamilton in the final fixtures this season, there will only be one person in his mind.

“But I really do think about her every single time I step out onto the pitch and every time I score a goal," Lafferty said. "I feel like she’s up there cheering.

“I go into games wanting to put in performances for her and I think if I help Kilmarnock stay in the league it’s something she’ll be proud of me for doing.

“Totally, 100 percent [it puts football into perspective]. It was difficult for me and my family at the time. My wife was very close to my sister so it affected her too.

“Football is my job and I need to try and produce the highest performance every day in training and in games.

“But first and foremost family is the most important thing to everyone.

“With Sonia she lived to see me life my dream. She passed away a happy person.”

The death of Sonia had a profound impact on Lafferty. At 33, he is older and a bit wiser, although he admits to still enjoying the lighter side of the game these days.

He expresses regret that he didn't look after his body better in his younger days before telling a story of ambushing the Kilmarnock analyst and squeezing a bottle of talcum powder in his face.

Such antics may be tame compared to some others on Lafferty's rap sheet but they are part of what he can bring to a squad and manager Tommy Wright will hope to reap the rewards in the coming weeks.

“The gaffer has been brilliant," Lafferty said. “He knows what I’m capable of doing, the same as working with Michael O’Neil with Northern Ireland.

“The gaffer knows that the more love he gives me the better I’ll perform. And the more he’ll get from me.

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“I’d just love to reward him by helping Kilmarnock stay in the league.

“The last two games are absolutely massive for myself to go out and produce.

“I have ten goals so far but they’ll count for nothing if we get relegated. If I can get the goals in the inexact two games to keep us in the league it’ll be the icing on the cake for myself.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Lafferty collected another prize to add to his collection as he picked up the Player of the Month award for April as recognition for the form he has shown since joining Wright's ranks.

Lafferty has a knack of delivering at the business end of the season. He thrives under the pressure and the expectation and the stakes are high at Rugby Park as Kilmarnock fight for their Premiership future.

"I would love to say it was when the trophies and medals come out, but unfortunately this time that’s different," Lafferty said. "I don’t know, it’s simply that everything I’m hitting at the minute is going in.

"I don’t do anything different, I prepare for games the same way. I don’t really know what to say to that.

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"Yes it is [fair to say I thrive on the pressure]. I’ve always been someone who finds that when the pressure is on I always provide goals.

"I have come in here for the last two months and they needed goals to pick up points. Overall we have been playing well.

"We had a disappointing result against Motherwell and the performance wasn’t really there.

"But since I’ve come in it feels like we’ve done well and probably haven’t picked up as many points as the performances. But that’s football and part of the game."