Raith sign '˜mini messi'
Gary Locke made his first new signing as Raith Rovers manager this week when he snapped up freed Kilmarnock winger Chris Johnston.
The talented 21-year-old was regarded as one of the Scottish Premiership’s brightest prospects before suffering a cruciate ligament injury in the opening game of last season.
After almost a year out of the game, the youngster is looking forward to being reunited with his former Rugby Park boss, and proving that his injury troubles are behind him.
“The last year has been tough,” Johnston told the Press. “I was gutted to get the injury so early on in the season when I’d been looking forward to having a good year at Killie.
“Gary Locke had told me that he had really high hopes for me and that I would play a big part last season, which was exciting, but after the injury and change of manager, it turned into a really bad year.
“It was really hard going into the gym every day and not being able to do anything on the pitch. I felt I could’ve made a difference when the team struggled last season.
“I’ve got over that now. I’ve done the hard work and I’m looking forward to getting back to playing football and doing well again.
“I need to put the past behind me because I’ve got a great opportunity to play at a great club and hopefully try to get Raith promoted.
“That’s got to be the aim. Last year they done really well to get into the play-offs so now they’ll be looking to push on.”
Johnston made his Killie debut at the age of 17 and made 65 appearances, scoring five goals. He was not short of offers following his release and even turned down the chance to stay in the Premiership to make the move to Stark’s Park.
“If I went to another top league team people would maybe think I wasn’t ready to come in and play games straight away,” he said.
“But Gary Locke knows my ability so I’ll hopefully be able to get a good run of games and put the injury behind me.
“He was the first manager to phone after I got the news that Killie were releasing me.
“I had a few offers but Gary spoke very highly about where the club is trying to go, the training facilities are in place and I know a few players at the club as well.
“Everything just seemed really positive and it felt like the right decision at the time.
“It’s a new opportunity and a fresh start and I’m looking forward to getting started.
“I played three or four reserve games at the end of the season so this preseason is going to be a big one for me to get myself fit and make sure I start the season flying.”
Lewis Toshney, Mark Stewart and out of contract Rory McKeown all played alongside Johnston at Kilmarnock, with Toshney describing him as ‘mini Messi’ on Twitter this week.
“I’m not too sure about that - I don’t want that tag to stick!” Johnston said. “It’s good going into a changing room where you know a few boys.
“I thought Raith were unlucky not to beat Hibs in the play-offs last season, and I don’t really see much difference between them and clubs like Kilmarnock or Hamilton.”
Johnston, who has five Scotland U19 caps, has signed a one-year contract.