In just two years, Allan Johnston has lifted Dunfermline Athletic from third-tier strugglers to a fifth-placed finish in the Ladbrokes Championship. But the Pars boss isn’t resting on his laurels, claiming that promotion is the focus next season.
Ladbrokes News caught up with the East End Park boss to discuss everything from Nicky Clark’s goalscoring knack to this summer’s new arrivals, and – of course – the club’s hopes for the coming campaign. And as the club’s large and loyal fanbase will be pleased to hear, Johnston and co are aiming high…
Ladbrokes News: The club had an excellent first season back in the Championship. Never in danger of a relegation battle – and eventually finishing just four points off the promotion play-off spots. How – and why – do you think the club handled the step up so well?
Allan Johnston: We’re a big club, and an ambitious club – so the belief was always there that we’d rise to the task. Obviously it was a big step up heading into the Championship, because the calibre of opposition is a lot stronger.
I think that explains in part why we had a slow start to last season. But as soon as we found our footing, we managed to start picking up points and went on to have a strong finish to the season. That’s given us a lot of optimism, so we need to make sure we continue to progress at this level.
LN: One superb bit of business you did last summer was bringing Nicky Clark back to Scotland. He managed 15 goals and four assists in the Championship last term. What makes Nicky such a good fit for Dunfermline?
AJ: I’ve worked with Nicky before, when I was manager at Queen of the South [from 2012-13]. He’s a natural finisher, his movement is excellent and he suits the style of football we play. There’s a real intelligence in his game as well – he knows exactly which runs to make in and around the penalty box.
Nicky’s also an excellent trainer, and he’s come back in great shape ahead of this season. To be honest, all the boys have, so I’m fortunate on that front!
LN: Talking of signings, you’ve already been busy in the transfer market, snapping up three senior players – Jean-Yves M’voto, Declan McManus and Aaron Splaine. What can fans expect to see from those guys?
AJ: They’re all quality players, and a combination of experience and exciting young talents. However, just as important in my view, is the fact we’ve managed to keep the core of the squad who were here last season, so the ability and the continuity we’ll get from those guys is hugely important.
As well as that, the new arrivals will add competition – and you need that in a squad. In truth, that’s probably just going to be the start of the influx this summer. We still need to strengthen, and I think you’ll see us sign another four players, at least. So there’s a lot of work still to be done in this window, but so far we’re looking good!
LN: Last season, Dunfermline were outstanding from mid-November onwards, but began the season by losing seven of the first 10 league games. What – if anything – are you guys doing differently, to try and avoid a repeat of that sluggish start?
AJ: I think we learnt out lessons early on last season, and we’ll take them into this campaign. We got punished for not being ruthless enough in the final third, and for a few error-ridden defensive displays. There’s no way you can win games when you’re falling short in those areas. But we quickly turned things around.
I don’t think we need to look back at that period and learn now, because I feel we solved those issues during last season. We need to just keep on in the vein we finished last season.
LN: We’ve seen Rangers and Hibernian win the title quite comfortably in the last two seasons, but there’s likely to be a closer race this time around. Do you consider winning the title a reasonable goal for the Pars – and would you be satisfied with a play-off spot, or not?
AJ: First of all, the goal is progressing. Last season we finished fifth, but with a year’s experience under our belts and the squad that’s being built here, I’m very confident we can improve on last season’s finish.
Promotion is the goal next season. No question about that.
There’s no reason we shouldn’t be challenging at the top end of the table with everything that’s in place at East End Park.
LN: Finally – a word on the support at East End Park. You averaged crowds of over 4,400 last season for home games, and have a big travelling support. What do they mean to your squad and everyone working at Dunfermline Athletic?
AJ: They’ve been a massive part of our success since I joined came here, and I love how much of a community club Dunfermline is. We’ve had terrific crowds, week in, week out, even for the longest away trips.
The fans are a big part of why I came here. There’s huge potential when you’re a club with such a large and passionate fanbase. And that, combined with seeing the plans from the Chairman and the Director here made it a very easy sell for me. It’s a great place to be!
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