DETERMINED Kilwinning Rangers manager Chris Strain is targeting a strong challenge for the Super League Premier Division in 2018.

And he is delighted with the progress made by the Abbey Park club since this time last year when they were facing a battle for survival.

They will test their credentials as title challengers on Saturday when they head to Beechwood Park to face fellow former champions Auchinleck Talbot.

Strain, who began work at Abbey Park three-and-a-half years ago said: "I would say it's night and day compared to how we were doing this time last year. It is positive and I'm fairly pleased. It could be better - it was disappointing going out of the Scottish Cup (at Bo'ness)_and West of Scotland Cup (at home to Irvine Meadow). But we have our ambitions to put in a challenge for the league and are in a good position.

"We are not getting above our station but working hard. We have difficult things to cope with like having more away games in the second half of the season."

Buffs head to Largs for a friendly today (Wednesday) which should be good preparation.

He expects a difficult examination at Auchinleck and said: "Talbot are going great at the moment and you expect them to challenge for every tournament they are in. They have experienced players and a good management team and are expected to win every game. It's good we are in front of them in the league but everything points to it being a difficult game but at least we have a couple of weeks to prepare for it. We are looking to win at Beechwood Park."

Strain says the last visit to Beechwood Park, which resulted in a Buffs' win will count for nothing.

"We have only lost two games and if we continue that ratio we will not be far away from the prize. We must look to win on different pitches. It could be a windy day on a muddy pitch, we must learn to win football matches, philosophies and styles go out of the window. We are halfway and have made a decent start. If you had offered me I would have taken it, if we are first or second in the league it might be a good season. There is progress," he commented.

The gaffer feels the fixture chiefs could be more flexible following a host of call-offs and added: " it's a a farce you're not made to play over Christmas. If it's to be a shutdown make it that. It's also crazy to stop playing on the September Weekend. The weather is degenerating and if you have an opportunity to play on a Saturday take it. The system is convoluted and fixtures should be released at the beginning of the season."