Kenny Shiels faces a huge challenge at Rugby Park

By Andy BurkeBBC Scotland
Kenny Shiels
Shiels was assistant at Tranmere Rovers before joining Kilmarnock

During Mixu Paatelainen's successful eight month spell in charge of Kilmarnock, the club's fans had a slogan - in Mixu we trust.

It is fair to say that new boss Kenny Shiels has work to do to secure the same faith from the Rugby Park support.

Placed in caretaker charge in March after Paatelainen's departure to take over the Finnish national team, Shiels' spell in charge last season yielded some underwhelming results.

Of the eight games on his watch, Shiels' side drew four, lost four and won no matches.

The Kilmarnock job is one of the toughest assignments in the Scottish Premier League, as the Northern Irishman has no doubt already worked out.

However, Shiels does not want the Killie fans to look to the new season with trepidation, but rather to be excited at the start of a new chapter in the club's history.

"I don't want the supporters to fear that we will be back in the relegation zone. We want to entertain, want to pass the ball.

"I'm very confident that we'll get the right players in and the supporters will be entertained again."

Times are tough financially for every club in Scotland, but for as long as memory serves, the Ayrshire club have been operating against a backdrop of financial uncertainty.

Jim Jefferies worked minor miracles for eight years in charge to keep the club competitive and away from the trapdoor to the First Division.

Jimmy Calderwood then orchestrated an escape act to avoid relegation in the 2009/10 season, keeping Killie up on the last day of the campaign after Jefferies had left halfway through the season.

Given the financial struggles the club continually endure as a top-flight outfit, dropping down a division could spell disaster.

And this is the crux of the challenge facing Shiels next season.

His playing squad appears impoverished after the departure of a number of players who played key roles under Paatelainen.

Captain Craig Bryson moved to Derby in a £350,000 transfer; creative fulcrum Alexei Eremenko and defender Mohamadou Sissoko have returned to Metalist Kharkiv and Udinese respectively after loan spells; Mehdi Taouil and Jamie Hamill have decamped to Hearts while Frazer Wright opted to join St Johnstone.

Shiels has begun the rebuilding process already, confirming the capture of striker Paul Heffernan.

He now hopes to press ahead in his quest for reinforcements.

"We're on the verge of having three other players signed," he said.

"We have to get players who are the right players and you don't do that in one day. I want people to be excited about what we are going to see. Come the end of July, we'll have a team in place and we'll be building even then."

After the period of stability brought to the club by Jefferies, Shiels is now Kilmarnock's fourth manager in 18 months.

His managerial experience consists of spells in charge of Coleraine, Ballymena United, Larne and Carrick Rangers in his homeland.

Shiels, whose son Dean played for Hibernian, was assistant manager at Tranmere Rovers for three years before he received the call from Paatelainen to head north.

He will have a trusted ally in the form of compatriate Jimmy Nicholl, himself no stranger to the SPL and Rugby Park.

"Jimmy's a great lad, he knows the game and he's going to work great with me. We're just football people, there's no secret to what we do," Shiels said.

Nicholl was assistant to Calderwood when the ex-Aberdeen boss guided Killie away from the drop-zone in 2010. His experience will be vital in what promises to be a challenging season ahead.

Paatelainen was named as the SPL's manager of the year last season for his work in leading Kilmarnock to a top-six place.

It is safe to say that such accolades will not have crossed Shiels' mind. SPL safety is the top priority.

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