Kirk Broadfoot admits European football was not even on the agenda when he first held talks about his move to Kilmarnock.
But the veteran centre-back now believes Angelo Alessio’s side can start seriously thinking about extending their Europa League run as continental action returns to Rugby Park for the first time in 18 years.
The 34-year-old helped Rangers reach the 2008 UEFA Cup final and is now excited about Killie’s prospects as they look to protect a first-leg lead against opening qualifying opponents Connah’s Quay Nomads.
Breaking into the top six was the height of the Ayrshire side’s ambitions when Broadfoot returned to Scotland to sign for former Ibrox team-mate Lee McCulloch in 2017, but after Steve Clarke took over Killie went on to soar.
Last year’s third-placed finish – their highest since 1966 – sealed Europa League qualification and they now just need to avoid a slip-up at home on Thursday to tee up a second-round clash with Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade.
The former St Mirren, Blackpool and Rotherham defender said: “To be honest, when I first came back, I couldn’t see this happening.
“The plan when I signed for Kilmarnock was to try to get into the top six.
“But we’ve taken it on to another level and to get into Europe is huge for a club of Kilmarnock’s size.
“If you’re being honest, there are four or five clubs hoping to get in that top six along with the big five. But for us to break into that big five and finish third was a fantastic season.
“As for Thursday, it’s only half-time but I think we are favourites. We are the bigger club, we’ve got a lead from the first leg and we’re now at home.
“We’ll be going to try to win the game.”
Alessio is now in charge following Clarke’s appointment as Scotland boss but there were signs the transition to working under Antonio Conte’s former assistant was not going as smoothly as hoped when they fell behind to the Welsh minnows last week.
Stuart Findlay’s stoppage-time winner means Killie take a 2-1 lead back to Ayrshire and Broadfoot expects his side to be sharper for the second leg.
“It’s been good under the new manager,” he said. “It’s quite different to what we’re used to but change is always going to happen when a manager moves on.
“The boys have taken to it but it’s going to take time until we start getting the manager’s ideas across.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take a few games, as you’ll probably see.
“We’ll probably improve this Thursday again as we’ve worked on it all week.
“I’ve had change all through my career. Everywhere I’ve gone there have been different managers come in with different ideas.
“It just takes a few weeks. The more games we get the better we’ll get at it.”
Meanwhile, Alessio has has re-signed defender Alex Bruce on a one-year deal.
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