BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
ALLAN JOHNSTON reckons his record-breaking title triumph with Sunderland underlines the importance of Dunfermline building momentum ahead of next season’s promotion push.
The Pars boss was part of the Black Cats side which romped to the old Division One title in 1998/99, racking up 105 points on their way back to the Premier League – the highest total any team had ever posted at that time.
And he believes the seeds of that peerless campaign were actually sowed in the previous season, when they enjoyed a run of just two defeats in their last 17 matches before ultimately losing out on penalties following a legendary 4-4 draw against Charlton in the playoff final.
So, while Dunfermline are unlikely to be dragged into the relegation mire, Johnston is adamant there is no chance he will let the Fifers coast through their final six fixtures.
He said: “I think back to when I was at Sunderland and, after being relegated from the top-flight, we had a really slow start to the following season but eventually picked up a really good run of results and ended up in the playoff final.
“Although we got beat in that playoff final, the boys all realised what an incredible run we had been on to get there, and we really just continued that the following season and went on to win the league by a big margin.
“I’m not saying Dunfermline are going to win the league next season, but I know from experience how effective that momentum can be. We need to be playing well, get wins and finish as strongly as possible – and then just carry that on next season.
“We didn’t start well enough this season and that is something we will want to rectify.”
As Johnston recalls, continuity was also key to Sunderland’s success – something he would like to replicate at East End Park.
Following a miserable start to the season, the Pars have vastly improved since November and he firmly believes he has the nucleus of a squad which could challenge for a top four place next season if he keeps the group together.
He continued: “We have a lot of good players here and I don’t believe we need to make many major changes. We would like to keep the majority of players here and, the sooner we can do that, the better.
“That is why it is important to finish on the front foot and make sure we are still in this division next year.”
Dunfermline could take a massive step toward cementing another season in the Championship with a win over Fife rivals Raith Rovers tomorrow and, in doing so, send them further into the relegation mire.
While there will be no quarter given on the pitch, Johnston confesses he would like to see the Rovers – who are just two points above the drop-zone – survive.
He added: “These derby days are great. There is nothing better than playing in front of a big crowd, with a good atmosphere; a proper game of football.
“I’m sure the fans love that too – the tension, the banter and the packed stadium – so it would be good if they stay in the division. But our priority is making sure we stay in the division.”