Allan Johnston was appointed Dunfermline Athletic manager on an initial 12-month contract with the Championship playoffs in progress. A tournament, which was the minimal expectation for the Pars to be participating in this season, but one they are watching from the outside after finishing seventh under John Potter.
Johnston is already familiar with Potter having played in the same St Mirren side. They also turned out for the Queen of the South team that was relegated from Division One in 2012.
The following season, the former QoS boss won the old Division Two and the Challenge Cup in his only campaign in charge of the Doonhamers. With only four defeats along the way; two in the cups to Premiership outfits Dundee United and his next club Kilmarknock. There was another couple in the league away from home, first of all to fellow promotion side Alloa Athletic and mid-table Stenhousemuir after the title was wrapped up. For those achievements, he was awarded the PFA Scotland Manager of the Year and a move to the top tier.
In his first season at the helm of Killie, he narrowly avoided 11th with a last-day victory at Easter Road; thanks to Kris Boyd slotting it past Ben Williams before half-time. Boyd’s 22 goals in 37 games was his most prolific spell in Ayrshire and certainly saved them from the playoffs considering they had lost the most games (21) in the Premiership.
On the back of the sale of young prospect, Robbie Muirhead in February without his knowledge, Johnson stated his intention to leave in four months, which was the end of his contract. However, the Killie Board decided to remove him from the job shortly after that announcement. He left the club in eighth with 28 points and a loss percentage of 54.5%.
He was derided by many Rugby Park goers for his negative style of play and failure to install width in his line-ups. Being a winger during his playing career, it certainly seemed an oddity as he preferred to try and play pragmatically. That was of little avail as they conceded north of 90 in his 59 league ties.
His transfer record was patchy; Ismaël Bouzid, Mark Stewart and Reuben Gabriel are just a few of the names that were signed in his first few months in Ayrshire. Together they amassed little more than sporadic appearances.
In attack, replacing Kris Boyd’s ability to sniff out chances in the penalty area was always going to be the biggest difficulty. The duo of Josh Magennis and Lee Miller were not the suitable replacements and have failed to hit double figures.
However, for all the deficiencies Johnston had in the top tier, his record reads much better in League One. It is a good omen considering the parallels that can be drawn between his Queens side and Dunfermline. One of the similarities is that both teams were the only full-time outfits in the division. Another is that there is a core of player that are capable of playing at the level that the club are aspiring too. Which is mid-table of the Championship. Finally, the comparison of strikers that can score in an abundance. Nicky Clark knocked in 41 before his move to Rangers and only Kris Commons netted more than Michael Moffat in 2013-14 afore the step across to Fife.
He also signed some of the squad that has achieved successive Premiership playoffs under Messrs Jim McIntyre and James Fowler. The likes of right-back Chris Mitchell, midfielder Paul Burns and forwards Derek Lyle and Michael Paton. Others such as Derek Young, Marc Fitzpatrick and Willie Gibson have moved on but are more than capable players in their respective League One sides. He will be familiar with David Hopkirk, who moved to Dunfermline in January; the attacking midfielder was contracted by Johnson after his release from Hearts. Those players combined to win the third tier by 25 points over Paul Hartley’s Wasps, scoring 92 – which was as many goals as they had points – and boasted the best defence in all four divisions.
The appointment is no surprise as he was always hovering around the favourites with the bookmakers from the off. He also matched the remit that the board announced was needed to hold the position. In the presentation press conference, DAFC Chairman Bob Garmony, said:
“It became evident, very early doors that we really needed to focus on somebody who had a track record of success in this division and who had taken a team out of this division.”
On that statement along with the favourites for the job, it eliminated Stephen Aitken of Stranraer, who has never won promotion. The others that were in with a shot was Dunfermline born, Dick Campbell, currently at Forfar and won promotion with Brechin in 2004. Airdrieonians’ Gary Bollan, who led Livingston to back-to-back divisional titles when they were demoted to the fourth tier. The last contender was Derek Adams, who lost his job at Ross County last year but won Division Two with the Staggies in 2008.
The target has not changed since they were relegated in 2013 but the message is becoming that more desperate. Garmony, reiterated:
“The manager knows that we need to get out of this division. We want to be in the Championship next year.”
There was no excuse for the calamitous failings of this season, a seventh-placed finish was not envisaged by anyone with a shred of knowledge of lower league football. It is hoped that the Pars will not be in the playoffs next season as they aim to steamroll their way to the title, just like “magic” achieved with his Dumfries outfit.
We looked at how the pre-season should unfold.
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