Allan Johnston has appealed to the Kilmarnock supporters not to make his players the victims of their long-running feud with chairman Michael Johnston.
The Kilmarnock manager wants the Rugby Park faithful to back his team against Celtic tomorrow, rather than staying away from the ground in protest about the way the chairman is running the club.
Michael Johnston’s minimal popularity with the Ayrshire side’s fans dropped even lower on Tuesday when they discovered that the chairman had offered cut-price tickets to Celtic fans in a bid to avoid a poor crowd for the lunchtime encounter with the champions, which is live on television.
However, Allan Johnston fears that fan boycotts will hurt his players, whom he believes need the backing of the supporters because they are representing the club they love. Johnston is still searching for his first win as manager since replacing Kenny Sheils in the summer.
Yet the visit of Celtic has sparked a fresh outbreak of civil war around Rugby Park, with fans responding angrily to Michael Johnston’s move to offer tickets to Celtic fans at £20. That £6 reduction on what home fans are charged was described as a “PR disaster” by the Kilmarnock Supporters Association, while the thousands of Celtic fans who already bought tickets at £26 were equally furious.
“We have to get the fans back on our side,” said Allan Johnston yesterday. “There are a lot of issues behind the scenes, which have been happening for the last season, but the fans need to get on our side and give us the backing because, at the end of the day, we are playing for Kilmarnock.
“I knew it was going to be a difficult job when I took the job here. We had a massive cut in the budget and I knew there were a lot of first team players who left at the end of last season. I knew all the ‘other stuff’ that was going on as well, but it’s a challenge and it is up to us to turn it around.
“I played here as a player and I know it is a big club and, if we get it right and get the fans behind us as well, I am sure it will be a great job. “
Kilmarnock’s home attendances have been markedly down this season, with just 3,063 turning up for the recent match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, the second-worst gate at Rugby Park since they returned to the top flight in 1993.
Allan Johnston insisted that supporters’ feud with the chairman has not had on impact him or his players. “No,” declared the manager. “You have to get on with the football. It’s easy to make excuses and say it does, but we have to focus on our games, that’s the priority. We have to encourage the fans back and get them on our side by playing good football and getting results. Hopefully, that will deflect from the off-field stuff.”
The Kilmarnock manager has added to his squad by recruiting former Rugby Park player David Silva on a short-term deal until the end of the season. The Portuguese midfielder is free agent after leaving Olhanense and could be given his second debut against Celtic.
“David has not played a lot of games so I don’t know how his fitness will be, or if he can last a whole game,” said Johnston.” However, he is a good player with pace, so I might use him.
“If we could beat Celtic, it would be a massive lift to everyone at the club. It would be a major boost to the players to do it against the top team. We have not been far away in most of our games from winning. If we get a result against Celtic, it could propel us onto better and bigger things.”
Johnston was at Celtic Park in midweek to watch Morton knock Neil Lennon’s side out of the Scottish Communities League Cup. “Morton defended incredibly well,” he said. “We have to do that and offer an attacking threat, too
“No-one will give us a chance. We are playing against top players. After the Morton result, I am sure the manager [Lennon] will have had a few words to say, with such a big game against Barcelona coming up on Tuesday. They will be wanting a positive result to go into that match, but we have to make sure we make it hard and show that Rugby Park is a hard place to come and play.”