Is your club prepared for the season ahead?
I would say so. We have played a few good teams in pre-season with the likes of Queen of the South, Berwick Rangers, Barnsley and Fleetwood Town all providing opposition for the Ayrshire-men. Not to mention Crusaders, who having won the Northern Irish league, found themselves in a European campaign.
The fixtures were a good test for Gary Locke’s squad which featured a plethora of new introductions.
Locke has finally been given a proper chance to construct his own side for the first time since taking over from Allan Johnston. We appear to have strengthened most positions on the field and even brought in Jamie MacDonald to offer competition for Craig Samson in the goalkeeping department.
Locke also brought in Lee McCulloch in an assistant managers/playing role – a decision which didn’t sit too kindly with some of the support. Personally, I feel this is a great appointment. If you had the chance to take on a Premier League winner and UEFA cup finalist with just under 20 caps for Scotland, you wouldn’t give it a second thought – but because it’s Lee, some people object.
I think it is ridiculous; the guy deserves a chance and the full backing of the fans. He may have been involved in a few tasty challenges during his playing career, but that fight, passion and desire to win is exactly what we need and was something that was totally absent last season.
What signing are you most looking forward to seeing?
Kallum Higginbotham – without a doubt. When it was announced he signed I was really surprised. For us to take another team’s talisman is unheard of. I know a lot of Thistle fans were saddened to see him go. Their loss is our gain, and full credit to Gary Locke for managing to sell the club to Kallum.
I expected him to move down south to the championship, where first team football would not be beyond him. However, we have him, and I’m delighted. Having watched him star for Thistle last season, I feel he has always stood out. He is influential on the pitch. He is quick and agile but also very strong in possession. It should also be noted, he is never afraid to go into a tackle as well – so other teams, beware!
You don’t win games without scoring goals – and I’m so glad we welcome Kris Boyd back for his third spell at the club.
After a disappointing stint in the lower leagues with a reformed Rangers team, Boomer has a point to prove.
Facing the end of his playing career, he has decided to settle back down in Ayrshire and has been welcomed with open arms. Hopefully he can replicate the form he once had and terrorise defences in the league once again. He is only eight goals away from 100 for the Ayrshire-men, so does he need a bigger incentive to grab them? Critics have, once again, written him off for this season…over to you Boydy.
Last season, our defence was woeful. With Mark Connolly out for a chunk of last season, it just proved how pivotal he was to the team as our form hit a mega slump after his injury in a 3-3 draw at the Caledonian stadium.
During that time, we lacked any real leadership on the park and were leaking goals left, right and centre. Locke has introduced some new personnel in that department. Steve Smith has come in from Rangers and also has a point to prove. Stuart Findlay, on loan from Celtic, has come in a bid to propel his career through first team football at Killie. He looks a really exciting prospect.
However, I feel we need a solid right back if anything. It’s been a position filled by Ross Barbour and Mark O’Hara and was a weakness for us last season.
How would you rate Gary Locke and can he improve upon last year?
It would be harsh to judge Gary on last season having taken over from Allan Johnston after the January transfer window. The real test will come now that Locke has had a chance to bring in his own players but I’m confident he’ll bring success to Kilmarnock.
Obviously, we can only judge him on results but he comes over in interviews as quite refreshing and seems to be saying the right things. This is in stark contrast to Allan Johnston, who would often offer very clichéd interviews which frustrated most of the fan base.
Anyone or any club you are worried about that may cause problems for you?
Good performances, never mind results, have been few and far between against Celtic. I don’t expect that to change this season as Ronny Deila will look to steamroller the league this year.
I would fear Aberdeen also this year as they look to have come through the summer unscaved – so often a successful team looks to be emerging in Scotland before the squad is decimated by clubs down south looking to fill their boots for a bargain.
They have also looked impressive in their European quest with the likes of Shinnie, McGinn and Pawlett standing out (to name a few).
Also, expect Hearts to continue last season’s magnificent form into this year. Robbie Neilson has done an excellent job for the Maroon half of Edinburgh. I think Tynecastle will, once again, become the fortress it used to be.
Expectations for this season?
Given a generous draw, I’d expect a decent cup run this year – but that depends on not drawing the likes of Celtic, Hearts, Aberdeen or Inverness early on. I would also like to see a top six finish. It’s time for us to stop flirting with relegation as I feel we should be confidently established in the SPFL for a team the size of Killie.
Where will your team finish in the league this season?
I think we will do really well this year. I’m more optimistic about this season than I have been in a long while. Quietly confident – but you’ve asked me to write what I think, so I’ll say 5th place.
A lot of critics have us down for favourites to go down – I think we will come to prove them wrong this year and comfortably get ourselves in the top six. The revamped squad is more than capable of doing that.
What was the highlight of last season?
From what was a dour season for us, it’s hard to pick a highlight. One game does stand out. Just under 2,000 Killie fans made the trip to Maryhill back in May for the second last game of the season.
We found ourselves in free-fall, a shrinking team with no hope or passion who just couldn’t seem to buy a win. Firhill is never an easy place to go, but still the supporters turned out for this one knowing a win would all but guarantee us safety in the division. They sang their hearts out for the full game and roared the team on to their biggest win of the season – a 4-1 victory.
Everyone to a man was terrific. Where did this come from? Why did we not play like the rest of the season? I wasn’t sure, but everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief after those 90 mins. The end of last season couldn’t come quick enough.
What was the low point?
One of the games that stuck out was the Scottish cup 4th round at Ibrox back in November. It was a rare chance to inflict some revenge against a team who had dominated Scottish football but now found themselves weakened and in turmoil – on and off the park. Their manager, Ally McCoist, was under immense pressure to produce results as fans seemed to desert the club.
The opportunity was perfect to pile more misery on the Glasgow giants. However, the team that showed up that Sunday afternoon looked like a bunch of guys plucked from the street. I’d never, in the 20 years I’d supported the club, seen a more heartless, cowardly performance. It was a game Rangers won easily and all of a sudden we found ourselves the laughing stock of Scottish football. It truly was embarrassing.
Who will win the Premiership?
That’s easy – Celtic. There may be a mid-season burst from Aberdeen or Hearts where they become three points away from the top the league, the papers will come out with the usual ‘can they take the league from Celtic?’ patter (even though Celtic will have something like six games in hand by this point) before they fall away in an anti-climax to battle out second place. Same every year, I suppose?