BILLY McKay knows the trophy chances have gone – but one big prize still lies in wait.
Inverness Caley Thistle’s dreams of League Cup silverware faded by the narrowest of margins on a heartbreaking day at Celtic Park against tonight’s opponents.
The week before, the hope of Scottish Cup advancement also unravelled in bizarre and spectacular fashion as Dundee United meted out a 5-0 thumping.
To portray John Hughes’ side as one now simply content to play out the rest of the season in the top six would be wholly inaccurate, though.
As McKay is quick to stress, the trophies have proven elusive but the very tangible prize of European football remains there for the taking, albeit Hughes’ side will have to make do without their captain Richie Foran as they look to achieve their target with the Irishman now not expected to return before the end of the season after knee surgery earlier this month.
McKay said: “It would be a really fantastic achievement for the club, and for us as players, if we could qualify for Europe. Richie Foran aside, there are not many players in the squad who have played in Europe before. We haven’t managed to win that first trophy, but this would be a really tangible prize.
“Last season, we went so close but missed out by two points and it has been a target for us again this time around. We’re not as high up as we would like to be at the moment but we’re going to keep pushing and try to win as many points as we can in these last five games. We are only two points behind last season’s points tally of 54. It would be an amazing achievement in its own right just to better last year, given what a great season that was. But it is going to take a lot more than it would have taken last year to qualify for Europe, so we have to keep pushing as hard as we can.
“It is still a realistic target. The good thing is everyone is going to be playing everyone and taking points off each other. If we just win all our games, we can sneak in there hopefully.”
Caley Thistle lost ground either side of that Celtic Park cup final defeat in mid-March. But prior to the split, they finished on a considerable high, beating neighbours Ross County with McKay back to his scoring ways. It was an individual and team performance reminiscent of their early-season displays and one, the striker asserts, that sets them up superbly for the last five matches. McKay, who has 22 goals for the season so far compared to last season’s 27, acknowledged: “A lot of the aspects we’ve been working on in training and games came together against Ross County.
“We had a good mixture of getting the ball down and playing, and also of us turning them when we could. The way we set ourselves up worked perfectly and, hopefully, we can progress from that on Friday.
“Aaron Doran, Marley Watkins and James Vincent got a lot closer to me. We played some good football at times. It is probably the most chances I’ve had in a game for a long time. It was nice to get a goal and a few chances. We were back to playing good, attacking football again. It was a great way to finish before the split. I said before the game, we needed to put a performance in and make sure we went away happy for the break. So it was perfect for all of the players, management and fans – and we’re raring to go again tomorrow.
“We’ve had a great week and haven’t really focused on Aberdeen – we’ve just focused on ourselves. We’ve worked on our shape and how we’re going to go about our business in the game. The cup final certainly hasn’t crept into my mind. We just have to push on now and win as many games as possible.”