THE Pars players are playing for their futures and Allan Johnston says he’s now in a position to start talks over new deals.

And the East End boss wants to keep the majority of a squad that he believes can mount a promotion challenge next season.

Saturday’s 2-0 success at Dumbarton all but secured Dunfermline’s place in the Championship and, while there remains a mathematical possibility of pipping Morton to the final Premiership play-off spot, nothing less than three wins from their final three games will give them even the slightest glimmer.

With a number of players out of contract this summer, including the likes of Callum Morris, Nat Wedderburn and Kallum Higginbotham, thoughts are now turning towards planning for next year and Johnston told Press Sport this week: “We’ve got a lot of good players at the club. Everybody’s desperate to do well and everybody’s playing for contracts, so hopefully we can start looking at that and trying to keep the majority of the squad here for next year because I think you can see we’ve got a good nucleus.

“There’s a lot of work to be done but I think it can start now. It’s going to take a wee bit of time; these things don’t happen overnight. It takes a bit of time to talk to players and agents, and obviously we’ve got to look at other targets as well in case people move on, and if we want to freshen up the squad.

“I’ve said many times that, in the majority of games we’ve played, I don’t think there’s been anything between the teams, I think we’ve got players here who can quite easily push for the top four. We’re disappointed not to be in the top four this year but you’ve got to try and improve every year, and hopefully next year we can improve again.”

Johnston, who will welcome back John Herron from injury but will make a late decision on Nicky Clark’s fitness, said that the team’s slow start to the season gave them a “mountain to climb” in the promotion race, but acknowledged that a fifth-place finish would be a credible achievement in their first season back in the second tier after promotion.

He wants his players to “put down a marker” by getting a result against bitter rivals Falkirk on Saturday, adding: “It’s a huge game. We want to finish on a high and there’s no bigger high than beating your local rivals. I thought they were by far the better team (last time) at Falkirk so we’ve got a point to prove. It’s all about finishing strongly.”