New Preston Athletic manager Willie Kirk may be a familiar face at The Pennypitt – but he admits finding himself in charge of the club he served as a player was an unexpected development.
Kirk ended his successful four-year spell in charge of Hibs Ladies earlier this year to take up the post of High Performance Manager at the Scottish FA’s Girls/Women’s’ National Performance Centre. He was appointed Panners boss following David Bingham’s resignation and revealed it wasn’t something he had planned after taking up his SFA post:
“It [previously playing for the club] was a factor,” he said. “I moved into my new role with my full-time work recently so it was never really on my agenda to get back into the men’s game, the Lowland League or anything like that. It was the whole Preston factor that made it quite interesting.”
The East Lothian club have yet to win a match this season, and the new gaffer’s immediate aim is to rebuild confidence before trying to achieve the longer term target of staying in the division: “I think we’ve already started restoring confidence through training and the performance last week against Haddington in a friendly. Winning that gave them confidence. You would never know in training that we were sitting joint-bottom of the league.
“I don’t really like to compare to what was here before, I’m just going about it the way I think it should be done. If that means a lot of changes, then so be it. It’s taken the boys a wee while to get used to things, so it does look as if things are different.
“Making sure we don’t go down is the target. I’ve set my own targets which I’ll strive at, but they basically centre around building for the next again season and for people outwith the club to see it as a positive destination for next year. It’ll be hard to attract players to a team that’s joint-bottom of the league, but hopefully by the end of the season they’ll go ‘oh, they had a good second half; they’ll maybe challenge next year’.”
Despite their lowly position, Kirk has already added to his squad, securing Hearts trio Liam Henderson, Aaron Scott and Alistair Roy on loan deals until January. Kirk believes the young Jambos can bring fresh impetus to his side.
“I think they’ll add an energy, professionalism – there’s undoubted ability there and a bit of naivety, but that’s quite good,” said Kirk. “They’re coming in without this heaviness of being bottom of the league with two points from 11 games. They’re not coming in with that burden. They just want to play games – there’s that freshness about them.”
The Pennypitt club visit Ferguson Park tomorrow to face Whitehill Welfare in what will be Kirk’s second league game in charge. Mickey Lawson’s men suffered their first league defeat of the season at Stirling Uni last weekend – a fact Kirk believes can work in his side’s favour: “What we need to hang on to is the fact that although they’ve had a terrific start to the season, they’ve lost their last two on the bounce.
“Does that become a habit to them just as it has to the boys in our changing room? Does a wee bit anxiety creep in and they’re maybe too anxious to put it right?
“It’ll obviously be very, very tough – they’re sitting third in the league, so it’s a tough place to go.”