Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes has told his players they will be a success story for the second year running if they avoid the drop as he prepares for a major relegation battle at Tannadice.
Killie sit 10th in the cinch Premiership and there are multiple connotations ahead of their clash with bottom club Dundee United on Wednesday night.
The Ayrshire side could potentially relegate their opponents, make themselves safe, remain in a three-way battle to avoid the drop and the play-offs, or even find themselves bottom after the game.
McInnes led Killie to the Championship title last season after hauling back long-time leaders Arbroath and clinching the trophy in a head-to-head battle with their rivals at Rugby Park, and Wednesday’s encounter has a similar vibe.
“For weeks going into the last game of the season last year, we still weren’t odds-on to win the title,” he said. “It was Arbroath’s league and we still had it all to do.
“We are arguably maybe in a worse position than we were then and the prize is the same. We don’t get a trophy for staying in the league but the prize is being a Premiership team next season.
“We have tried to reinforce that to the players – that we can still succeed in what we set out to do this season.
“There’s been a lot of disappointment and frustration and I’m not going to try and dress that up, but we can still succeed in what we intended to do and that’s important we work towards that.”
McInnes accepts that nerves could play their part at Tannadice.
“I think it’s natural for that,” the former Aberdeen manager said. “There is always pressure when you are involved in football and I want to be there to help my players limit those nerves and just go and play the game.
“That can be difficult because everyone is well aware of the situation but it’s the same for all the teams round about us.
“We have played teams who maybe didn’t have quite the same pressure and now we are playing teams who have the same anxieties, fears and responsibility.
“We feel that responsibility and it’s my job and the staff’s job to try and allay those nerves and just deal with the game and concentrate more on the performance.
“There’s loads of different ways you can do that. You try and give confidence anyway. It’s our job as a staff to give confidence to the players.
“Equally it’s difficult to shut out the noise and the situation we are in. You wouldn’t want to. We are in a serious situation, as all the teams are.
“But we just want them to concentrate on trying to play without fear, play with courage and confidence.”
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