MANAGER Allan Johnston is backing Kilmarnock to go from strength to strength despite the fact they were forced to hang on for a point from their opening-day Scottish Premiership meeting with Dundee at Dens Park.
The Ayrshire club had inspired goalkeeper Craig Samson to thank for defying the Dark Blues, who threatened to overrun Killie, especially in a whirlwind second half.
Craig Slater’s spectacular 24th-minute free kick cancelled out Gary Harkins’ hotly-contested 16th-minute penalty in front of almost 8,000 fans at Dens Park and thus the game finished 1-1.
That controversial spot-kick came about after a one-two involving Paul McGowan and Luka Tankulic almost set Harkins free inside the box until he was impeded by Mark Connolly.
Referee Steven McLean had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and up stepped Harkins to make it 1-0 by sending Samson the wrong way from the spot.
Killie fought back, though, and James McPake’s foul on Tope Obadeyi led to Slater striking an unstoppable free kick into the far top corner to level matters. Goalkeeper Kyle Letheren, who had proved his worth earlier by pulling off some fine saves, was this time rooted to the spot.
Johnston was far from despondent at leaving Dundee with just a point, though, as they strive to avoid repeating the kind of woeful start which left them fighting a relegation battle for most of last season.
He said: “We have got to look upon this as a positive point.
“It’s not a bad start at all when you take things into consideration.
“Dundee were all fired up as it was their first match in the top division.
“They have made a lot of changes over the summer period and brought in a lot of new players who look to have settled in well together.
“I think a lot of teams will come here this season and find this a difficult venue.
“We did well in certain parts of the game, especially in the first half when our passing was nice and crisp and we did what we’re good at.
“As everyone knows. we had a bad start last season which made it kind of hard for us.
“But we’re feeling good about ourselves this season and can hopefully go from strength to strength in the weeks ahead.”
Meanwhile, Dundee manager Paul Hartley has told the players in his newly-promoted side to stick by their footballing principles in order to chalk up the points they need to make an impression back in the top flight.
He said: “That’s how we want to play.
“It’s what we’ve been working hard on in pre-season and we’ll continue to do so.
“I was very pleased with the players’ efforts, especially in the second half.
“It’s still early days but this is the league we want to be in and we’ve given a good account of ourselves.
“There were plenty of positives to take from this game and all the new players did well.”
The Dens Parkers had nine new faces in their line-up after a summer of change within their ranks, while Kilmarnock fielded Chris Chantler, who had joined from Carlisle 24 hours earlier.