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Old flame flickers as Kilmarnock try to reignite form

THERE is always a sharp pang of jealousy - hopefully irrational - when your new flame's ex-boyfriend stops by for a chat and a cup of tea.

Allan Johnston is worried about a January exodus. Picture: SNS
Allan Johnston is worried about a January exodus. Picture: SNS

Kenny Shiels' remarkable kiss-off to Kilmarnock in his first press conference as Morton manager may not have been quite up there with 'Here's looking at you, kid' or 'It ain't me babe', but its heartfelt honesty still raised eyebrows in the sternly unsentimental football circle.

"I fell in love with Kilmarnock," Shiels reminisced wistfully, no doubt dreaming of those summer nights stealing away to eat ice cream under the bleachers, kissing as the band marched past. "I wanted closure, so I went down to the training ground on Friday to close that off from my head."

Allan Johnston, his replacement at the club, was asked yesterday if he had fallen under as magical a spell. "I don't read what he says to be fair," he said, carefully, with a grin. "Kenny Shiels did really well here, he's a good manager, I'm sure he'll do well at Morton." Did he see Shiels when he came down to Rugby Park to get closure? "He was here early on, I think. I didn't see him."

Johnston rightly pointed out that his own affair with the club had already lasted years. "I was here for longer than any other club, so I know how good it is," he said.

"We've just got to make sure we get the results right on the park. It was difficult last week, but in our next few games we play the teams around us and if you can start winning then you can work your way up the table."

Johnston conceded his frustration about the uncertainties of the coming transfer window. With several players out of contract - or leaving at the end of loan spells - he has acted early, trialling hopefuls in anticipation of a possible exodus.

Jackson Irvine, the defender on loan from Celtic who has impressed most recently in midfield, is one Johnston would like to keep a hold of. "You'd imagine with him playing regularly he'd prefer to stay, with it being a World Cup year," said the Kilmarnock manager. Before all that can be sorted, though, Johnston will be looking to outwit his counterpart at Partick Thistle, Alan Archibald, on Saturday, knowing a victory will allow his side to skip above the Firhill club in the table. Archibald is still coming to terms with an injury to Isaac Osbourne, a player who his manager admitted has been a vital, tough-tackling cog in his midfield.

"He's been man of the match in about 80% of the games he's played," acknowledged Archibald. "I think he missed the first few, but he's been a colossus in there. We don't know how long he's out for, but it will definitely be lengthy. So he'll be a big loss, but it gives someone else a chance to step up."

Archibald has been scouring the British leagues, looking for talent to freshen up his squad in January. Farid El Alagui, the Brentford striker, is identified as one who could make an impact. The Moroccan-born Frenchman spent a year at Falkirk, where he scored 18 goals in 33 games and became something of a cult hero for kissing a lucky coin - kept safe by staff in the dugout - after every goal.

But Archibald was not optimistic that the deal would be done. "Not at the moment," he admitted. "They've just changed their manager so that's obviously a problem. So there was maybe a chance of him becoming available when the old manager was there, but that might have changed."

Archibald also confirmed he was interested in retaining the services of Gary Fraser, but said the decision would be taken by his parent club, Bolton Wanderers. "It's in their hands," he conceded.

As for their visit to Kilmarnock on Saturday, he recognised that there are a lot of similarities between the two clubs' situations. "They're much like ourselves, they've been up and down," he said. "They've leaked a few goals like ourselves as well. They've got a chance to go above us if they win, and we've got a chance to get to Hibs, so it's all to play for."

Did Archibald have any memories of playing against Kris Boyd, the Kilmarnock striker?

"Just him scoring," he sighed.

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