This piece is an extract from yesterday's The Rugby Road Gates newsletter, which is emailed out at 6pm every Wednesday. To receive our full, free Kilmarnock newsletter straight to your email inbox, click here.

"We got a huge dose of confidence by beating Rangers in the first game of the season. We’ve just carried on from that really, we’ve not had any real dips in form. We’ve always been really competitive. The players deserve a lot of credit when we last week secured the top six. We knew if we could get the top six then we could be in the fight for Europe, but I don’t think anybody would’ve thought that – and rightly so. Now, we’re in the top six, with a game to go, hopefully with two or three more wins we might just achieve what we thought would be beyond us."

Derek McInnes is always a joy to listen to. The way the manager articulates himself when speaking publicly is a credit to himself, but also to the club. He’s the face of Kilmarnock FC, and everyone knows it. He’s the charismatic leader every football fan wants at the helm of their club. I’m just thankful he’s in charge of mine.

Dissecting some of what the 52-year-old said post-match on Saturday, firstly, I think the immediate element that jumps out is just how much pride oozes out of him when speaking about his players. This is his squad, his starting XI. It’s been a rough ride to get here, at points, but my god, it’s proven to be well worth the 4-0 hammering at Tannadice, or the drubbings at home to Celtic last season.

McInnes highlights that with another couple of wins then fourth place, and in turn, European football this summer, should be in Killie’s hands. I understand his caution around the subject given there’s still plenty of football left to be played, but I’d go as far as to say that one more victory, coupled with a suspected defeat for St Mirren at Celtic Park on Saturday, would be enough to see the club over the line. If that scenario does come to pass, then the achievement can be properly celebrated with five, mainly pressure-free games in the post-split fixtures.

If a third away win of the season can be picked up against St Johnstone this weekend, that would be the dream scenario before heading into the final stretch. This would potentially open up an eight-point gap over nearest challengers St Mirren – whose fans already seem to have lost hope that they can catch Killie in fourth.

McInnes is spot on. The team hasn’t looked back ever since the opening day of the season way back at the beginning of August last year. On that roasting hot summer’s evening, Michael Beale’s Rangers were in town. The tone for the campaign was set with a hard-fought 1-0 win. From then on in, by and large, the consistency has been at the level we always hoped it would be under the manager given his previous jobs carried out at Aberdeen and St Johnstone. There was a spell between the end of August and the start of October that expectations were tempered somewhat by some disappointing early season bumps in the road. For the most part, though, it’s been night and day compared to last season – not that the gaffer wants to liken the two due to his high professional standards.

READ MORE: Exclusive interview with ex-Kilmarnock captain Gary Dicker

The mood around the club is buoyant and confident – Lewis Mayo told us as much when he spoke to the press last midweek. It’s Brad Lyons’ turn this week, so we’ll see what the chirpy midfielder has to say upon his return from long-term injury, as well as the small matter of a well-deserved extended contract. On the mood in the camp, it may seem like a moot point, but it’s worth mentioning that the access to training for the club’s in-house media team can’t go unnoticed. This is a textbook sign that the manager is relaxed, and the players are relaxed, all while maintaining their laser focus on the task at hand by seeing out the season strongly. It’s been great to see some of the content produced by Lochlin and Scott in recent weeks. It all feeds into the connection built between the players and the supporters like we’re part of what goes behind the scenes.

To round up, should fourth place be wrapped up sooner rather than later, McInnes needs to be a frontrunner for Manager of the Year. Aside from John McGlynn in League One, there’s no other outstanding candidate - perhaps other than Philippe Clement should he guide Rangers to the title, but that’s a pretty big variable. I trust this team though and I think we’ll be digging out our passports for a European tour this summer. No matter what, even if the club finishes fifth, it’s still been a good season - one to be proud of. But to reference the manager, anything other than fourth will be tinged with disappointment now. And that's the ultimate showing of how much progress has been made in these past 12 months.