It won’t be easy, but Derek McInnes has set his sights on achieving a top-six finish for Kilmarnock next season. 

The Rugby Park boss is determined to go up against Scotland’s big city clubs to fight it out for Killie’s first top-half finish in five years, hopefully within a chance of securing one of the European spots. 

The last time the Ayrshire side achieved such a feat Steve Clarke guided them to a historic third-place finish – their highest league position since 1966. 

For the most part in the years since Clarke left for the Scotland job, it’s been rather glum for Killie with the club relegated in 2021. They’re only now beginning to get back on stable ground after securing their Premiership status in their first season back in the league. 

However, they’ve got foundations to build from now after a difficult first campaign back, and McInnes is full of belief Killie can start looking upward once again. 

“It’s not going to be easy, the investment that these clubs have now gives them every advantage and opportunity to get into that top five,” McInnes said when addressing next season’s ambitions. “But there’s always a team that comes through, Stephen Robinson got the recognition for the job he did at St Mirren this season.  

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“I firmly believe that we can strive to be that club and get amongst it. Loads of clubs will think that, and St Mirren will think they can do it again. It’s important that we do everything we can to be that club, if we can then it helps us progress, we need to be seen doing that.  

“We don’t want to get to the last day trying to stay in the leagues again, we want to make sure we’re better than that next season and that’s the intention, I believe we can be. 

“It’s alright for me to say it was important for us to stay up to allow us to rebuild, but now I’ve got to go and back it up. This season’s starting point has to be stronger than where we were last season.” 

Sometimes in order to look forward though, it’s important to look back. Killie secured top-flight safety with a final-day win over Ross County at a packed Rugby Park just two weeks ago. 

Since then, the boss has released seven players and a further eight loanees have returned to their parent clubs. 

While it’s the season for change, reflecting on the 2022/23 campaign, McInnes admits he’d have taken 40 points from the outset when considering the circumstances surrounding the club after promotion, as he praised the spirit of the players who got the club over the line. 

Although, the former Aberdeen No.1 does have a bugbear from the year just past that will live with him for a very long time. 

Asked where staying up ranks in his list of achievements as a manager, he said: “I think that’s up to others to judge. I think we’ve done a lot of our best work here (Rugby Park). That might not always play out in terms of performances, but we’ve had to work hard as a staff.  

“The togetherness of the squad and the staff was good when things weren’t going well. Management and playing is not always a bed of roses and there are certain things you need to lean on to get through it.  

“I think we stayed really strong as a squad. Even boys I’ve released over the last two or three days have all said the exact same thing. They never felt in the dressing room that we were going to get relegated.  

“There was a tightness and togetherness there. You don’t always get that as a manager. Sometimes you have to encourage, manifest, and work hard at it.  

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“We’re grateful for that part of it. It’s tinged with disappointment that we only got to one semi-final. The Scottish Cup will forever be that bugbear. We feel it could have and probably should have been us involved in the game on Saturday. If we’d delivered a level of performance.  

“We were close to being the first Kilmarnock team ever to make two national semi-finals in one season. That was worth working for and we never achieved it.  

“Staying in the league, I can recognise the work-rate of the players to get the job done. Because there would have been spells in the season where that would have been questioned.   

“Thankfully, the staff and the players had the belief that we just about had enough. Based on where we were, I’d have taken 40 points at the start of the season and I don’t make any apologies about that. I think a lot of good work was done.   

“There were some tough days. Sometimes I didn’t think I had the answers in personnel to be the team I wanted to be. But I always felt I had the answers in the building and personnel to stay in the league. And that’s how it played out.”