Allan Johnston Killie
Allan Johnston knows his high flying Queen of the South have nothing to fear in East Ayrshire this weekend.
The Doonhamers travel to Kilmarnock for a Scottish Cup fourth round clash – just 14 months after being mauled 5-0 at Rugby Park.
But reinvigorated Queens have already claimed the scalp of Hibs and Rangers this season before running Dundee United close at Palmerston.
And Johnston, part of the starting eleven in forgettable night at Killie last year, warned that Kenny Shiels’ side can expect an entirely different test this weekend.
The player-boss told the Standard: “That game last year was one to forget for all involved, We simply did not know how to handle the movement and pace of that Kilmarnock side.
“I remember at one point we just couldn’t get a hold of the ball at all and they picked us apart so easily. Obviously quite a few of the boys are still here from that game and the chance to go and make amends is certainly an extra motivation for myself. We have improved a lot since then and this squad has already proved what it is capable of this season.
He added: “Make no mistake, this will be a massive test for our players, but I am positive that we can go there and challenge Kilmarnock. If we play with the same level of commitment as against Rangers, Hibs and Dundee United then we will be okay.
“We go into every game with the objective of stopping the other team playing by pressing them high up the pitch and this weekend will be no different.”
Ex-Killie star Johnston spent five successful seasons at Rugby Park, making well over 100 appearances under then manager Jim Jefferies.
He starred as the SPL side notched up two fifth-placed finishes and reached the CIS Cup final in 2007 – a feat he believes his current crop of players can take inspiration from.
Johnston said: “I really enjoyed my time at Kilmarnock – it’s a top club and I spent five great years there. We almost always maintained a top-six finish during my time there, which given our resources was a great achievement.
“Obviously we were heavily beaten by Hibs in the CIS Cup final but the experience of the cup run was something I will always remember.
“I think we punched above our weight slightly but we had a very solid and organised team at the time.
“We showed that we could challenge despite having a considerably lower budget than most other teams.”
The Palmerston manager, who played alongside a number of the current Killie crop during his spell at the club, has been impressed by the Rugby Park outfit this season.
He knows the threat posed by strike duo Cillian Sheridan and Paul Heffernan and has warned his defenders they must be at their best.
“The two Killie strikers, Sheridan and Heffernan, are top class,” Johnston said. “They are such a handful and our defence will face possibly their biggest test of the season on Saturday.
“I know a few of the Killie boys from my time up there and they have quality all over the park. They are capable of anything on their day, as was evident when they won at Celtic Park.”
Queens have only lost one of 21 games this season – a narrow 1-0 defeat against Dundee United – and will be fancied by some for a cup upset this weekend. The second division side welcome former Killie midfielder Willie Gibson and defender Kevin Holt back into the squad for the trip up the A76.
Johnston added: “We are almost at full strength for the game – only Kevin Smith, who played for the reserves in midweek, will be missing. Kevin (Holt) and Willie also played in the reserve fixture and both are in contention for a place in the squad.
“Willie was brilliant against Forfar last week but his knee swelled up and he had to sit out the Ayr United game, while Holty has just been unfortunate in losing his place. He received a harsh red card and Ryan McGuffie, who came into the side in his place, has been great and Holty will just need to keep on working hard to try and win his spot back.”