Craig Brown is too much of an old pro to be fazed by managerial mind games.

Thus, when invited to comment on the "special relationship" Kenny Shiels has developed with referees and some of his Clydesdale Bank Premier League counterparts, his smile widened.

Brown's Aberdeen side tomorrow play Kilmarnock at Rugby Park and, perhaps pre-empting some gamesmanship, insisted that the home team's manager has been good for his club and for Scottish football despite his difficulties with match officials.

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"Kenny won't get under my skin," Brown said. "I like him. He is a friend. We are socially friendly with the Killie staff and nothing would please us more than for them and us to do well. Kilmarnock did well to win the League Cup. Kenny is a great ambassador for Kilmarnock in terms of getting them publicity. That's his forte. He's a salesman and fantastic credit to him. I don't think there is anyone in football who would complain about him."

The Aberdeen manager has, however, mentioned Shiels to John Fleming, the SFA head of referee development. He said: "I asked him if Kenny was getting away with a lot more than Aberdeen and he said 'absolutely not'. I respect referees. I think they deserve better support than they sometimes get from managers. Referees are strong enough not to be influenced by what managers say, though human nature says that if you're a weaker referee and Kenny's constantly going on you might think, 'I'll better watch or Kenny will complain'.

On the sacking of Barry Smith as manager of Dundee, Brown tipped Willie Donachie, the former Scotland full-back, now reserve team coach at Newcastle United, as someone who might be in the frame.

"I've seen the list of candidates and there are a lot of good names," Brown said. "My wild card would be Willie Donachie. It's a bit like Steve Lomas when he went to St Johnstone. Willie has been working well behind the scenes but looks ready for a step up."

Shiels, meanwhile, could be left with only one senior defender fit enough to play against Aberdeen. The Kilmarnock manager will not be able to call upon Manuel Pascali again this season as the Italian requires surgery on a hamstring problem, while Rory McKeown has yet to resume full training following injury. Mohamadou Sissoko is also a doubt to feature at Rugby Park due to a virus and Jeroen Tesselaar has sustained a thumb injury.

The Dutchman has been fitted with a cast but referee Euan Norris, who will take charge at Rugby Park, denied permission for the defender to play while wearing it when contacted by the club yesterday. That has left just Ryan O'Leary – who has only played intermittently since the turn of the year – to marshal a back line comprising inexperienced youth players for the visit of Aberdeen.

"Jeroen has hurt his hand in training. We are in a bit of trouble for Saturday," said Shiels. "His thumb is out of shape and we are trying to get a splint for him. If we can't get him cleared to play with that then we are really, really struggling. Of the senior players that would play at the back, only O'Leary is still in. He will be on his own – it's a bit of a crisis."