STEVE Lomas has urged his St Johnstone side to keep their Europa League hopes alive until the final day of the season.
St Johnstone 1 - 0 Inverness CT
Scorers: St Johnstone - MacLean 77
Referee: C Thomson
Steven MacLean’s second-half header gave Saints a 1-0 victory over Inverness in their Clydesdale Bank Premier League encounter at McDiarmid Park on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors battled valiantly for 78 minutes with ten men after defender David Raven was shown a straight red card by referee Craig Thomson for a professional foul on Rowan Vine but could not prevent the home side moving into fourth place, within one point of Caley and one ahead of Ross County with three SPL games remaining.
The only goal of the game came with 13 minutes remaining, second-half substitute Nigel Hasselbaink playing a delightful ball with the oustide of his foot to MacLean, who headed home at the near post.
A Highland derby in Dingwall will provide what is sure to be an exciting conclusion to the league season but Lomas is hoping his team is still in the European mix when they take on Motherwell at Fir Park that day.
“We are hoping”, said the Northern Irishman. “That was our aim.
“Obviously the Highland derby is the last game but we have two very tough games in Dundee United away and Celtic away so we are going to probably have to pick up one result in those to give us an opportunity to go down to the last game.
“But we are in there fighting and that is all credit to the boys.
“We have a lot of players out of contract next season who don’t know where they are going to be. All credit to them for keeping grafting.”
As the Perth men target a European place for the second successive season, MacLean believes Lomas should not be forgotten when it comes to any manager of the year awards.
Celtic’s Neil Lennon, Motherwell’s Stuart McCall, Derek Adams of Ross County and Inverness’s Terry Butcher have all been mentioned in dispatches but the Saints striker believes his boss deserves consideration.
He said: “I am not taking away from what the other managers have done, they have done a great job but our gaffer has done a good job as well.
“Everyone is talking about them but we are one point off third place, it speaks for itself.”
Butcher, who is contemplating an appeal of Raven’s red card, is looking to take advantage of two of their last three games being at home, against Motherwell and Dundee United, before the local derby.
“I said to the players before the game that whatever the result, they are still going to be above St Johnstone and Ross County and in a great position,” he said.
“We wanted the margin to be bigger but unfortunately it’s not, through one decision. We would have taken this situation at the start of the season. We have two home matches to come and we certainly want to win those.”