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Kilmarnock threat has been raised to the power of three

ALL of a sudden, Kilmarnock have their swagger back.

It has been a while in coming but now positivity and optimism surrounds Allan Johnston's squad where uncertainty and anxiety were previously the prevailing emotions.

A difficult start to Johnston's tenure after making the move from Queen of the South in the summer meant it was mid-October before Kilmarnock had their first win of the campaign. Now they approach the final game of 2013 having won three of their four matches this month and with their sights set on moving up the table rather than worrying about what is going on below them.

An attacking trident that combines youth on the flanks with a veteran, streetwise centre-forward has been at the heart of their renaissance. On one wing is Chris Johnston, the Scotland under-19 player who has scored four times in five games while providing a number of assists; on the other side is Rory McKenzie, a year older than Johnston at 20 and the scorer of the final goal in Kilmarnock's impressive 4-0 win over Hearts on Boxing Day.

In between the pair and feeding off their deliveries into the penalty box is Kris Boyd, a striker born again after returning to first club Kilmarnock. Boyd scored twice against Hearts, missed numerous other chances, and now has 11 goals for the season. Johnston believes it is a combination that works well.

"Sometimes we have struggled to kill teams off but, as you saw against Hearts, it looks like we're maybe getting to grips with that," said the 19-year-old. "We got two up and scored more, kept creating chances. With someone like Kris Boyd in the team, goals should never be a problem.

"Everybody knows how good he is, a guy of his quality, the goals he scores . . . it's frightening. You know that if you put the ball into the box, there's a good chance he'll score. He bagged two against Hearts and could have had five. If you keep creating chances, he will take them."

Their relegation worries having eased, Kilmarnock now have designs on moving up the table from their place in ninth. By coincidence they now play the two teams immediately above them in the rankings, with Hibernian tomorrow and then St Mirren on Thursday. Victories in both would likely cause the Rugby Park side to burst through into the top six. "It's great looking at the table now because we're looking up instead of down," added Johnston. "Our aim is to catch the teams in front of us."

Allan Johnston, the Kilmarnock manager, echoed the sentiment. "It's going to be difficult [to make the top six] but we've got to put a run together," he said. "Confidence is growing and you can see that in the young players who have come in - you can see the energy they give us."

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