Steve Clarke delighted Kilmarnock are making their supporters happy
Killie are one point clear of Rangers at the top.
Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke claims restoring pride among the fans and the Ayrshire town is more rewarding than topping the league.
Clarke is happy for supporters to have “crazy” dreams as his side prepare to travel to face Celtic on Saturday at the summit of the Ladbrokes Premiership following a midweek win over Livingston.
But the former Chelsea defender will focus on ensuring his players continue to meet the high standards they have consistently achieved since he arrived at the club 14 months ago – they have collected three more points in 2018 than the champions.
Saltcoats-born Clarke has a long affinity with the club with his elder brother Paul a member of the hall of fame following his lengthy service on the pitch.
And he was determined to do his bit for Killie when he returned to Ayrshire after 30 years in England.
“The most important thing for Kilmarnock as a football club, and probably as a town as well, is we have given a little bit of pride back to the area,” the 55-year-old said.
“The club is in a better place now than it was 14 months ago. That’s the most important thing.
“The rest of the chat about top of the league, great runs and great calendar years, is really quite irrelevant. It’s the fact that supporters look forward to come and watch the team, that’s the important thing.
“Obviously I know a lot of people in the area who are happy just now. There’s many Kilmarnock fans who are, not living the dream, but dreaming about the possibility that we can do great things.
“They’re allowed to do that, they are supporters. We have to allow them to dream, we have to allow them to think about crazy things.
“We have to keep our feet on the ground. Difficult game (Saturday), and all I look for is we meet our own high standards. And if we do that, you never know.”
Clarke, whose team are unbeaten in four games against Celtic, added: “It’s always good going to the big stadiums, playing against the big teams, and trying to prove that we can be competitive with them.
“The only ask I put on my players is to play as well as they can play. If they do that and it’s good enough to get a positive result, then great.”
Clarke’s transformation of a team that had collected three points from seven games before he took over last season has been a major talking point in Scottish football but he insists there is no secret – “good players working hard gives you a chance of getting results”.
Now, with Killie hitting new heights, the discussion has moved on to whether they can sustain a title challenge.
“It’s always going to be difficult,” Clarke said. “You only have to look at the last seven trophies that were up for grabs since Brendan (Rodgers) came to Celtic – Celtic have won them all. So it’s going to be difficult.
“What has happened this year, it seems to be a little more competitive. We get to December and we are lucky enough to be top of the table just now. Hearts have been top, Rangers have been top, obviously Celtic have been top.
“It seems to be more competitive but there’s still a lot of games to go and still time for the so-called bigger clubs to pull away.”