NICK Ross came out of cold storage for relentless Inverness as the Highlanders kept the heat on their top three European rivals.
Scorers: Inverness CT - Mckay 77
It was a rare appearance, but the Caley Thistle midfield stand-out told how the late shout to play in the narrow victory over St Mirren gave him no time to be pressured by his long-awaited break.
Ross, making only his second start of the campaign, knew he had to perform after getting the nod and turned in an excellent display.
With Billy Mckay claiming the late winner with the cheekiest of back-heel flicks, it has been a brilliant start to 2015 for Inverness.
Ross said: “It was just good just to be out there. I’m enjoying every minute I get at the moment from the bench.
“I needed to make the most of it but the most important thing was helping the team to another good win.
“I have to try all I can to get a good run in the team which I’ve not had this year. I thought I did well, and, hopefully, given the manager something to think about.
“It’s always important to get wins around Christmas and January. There are a lot of games this month, so if we can pick up as many points as we can now it’ll do us well for the rest of the season.
“There wasn’t really pressure on me as it was a late shout to play. I came in at 1:30pm and saw my strip was with the starting 11. It was a nice surprise.”
Northern Ireland international Mckay’s seventh strike of the season restored him as club top scorer after his well-publicised barren patch early in the campaign.
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But, more importantly for the European-chasing Highlanders, it kept up the pressure on the top three on a day when Dundee United slipped up and Aberdeen and Hamilton kept winning.
Caley Thistle remained fifth last night but the league table again tightened up, with just a point separating the four sides behind the Dons.
For St Mirren, it was in many ways an encouraging show, with great spirit in evidence, plenty of fight and a little bit of ill-fortune at crucial times.
But Saints now have only one victory from their last 13 outings this season and have gone eight games in Inverness without savouring that winning feeling.
It wasn’t a day of outstanding performances from any particular individual but Ross certainly reminded manager John Hughes of his worth after a long, frustrating spell in the shadows.
The Buddies impressed from the off with a willingness to have a dig from distance and a general up-and-at’-em approach that quickly told Caley Thistle they were in a game.
John McGinn’s ambitious 45-yard thump at goal set the tone from Saints inside five minutes.
But it was Kenny McLean’s beautifully-struck left foot attempt from 30 yards which really troubled home keeper Dean Brill as he watched it crack off the top of the bar.
The Highlanders were soon moving the ball more purposefully, though, and Ryan Christie’s superbly-weighted pass released Doran for a low drive past Mark Ridgers, only for the offside flag to rise.
Dean Brill then spared the hosts the loss of an opener when he reacted sharply to McLean’s fierce, angled shot from inside the box, tipping the ball for a corner.
The hosts were warming up, though, and began to dictate the build-up play with local lads Christie and Ross impressing with their movement and intent.
Mclean went close again with a curling, first-time 25-yard hit with his left foot flying just wide of Brill’s right-hand post.
The half closed with Caley Thistle back in the ascendancy. Billy Mckay capitalised on slackness from Jereon Tesselaar to race in on Saints’ Inverness-born keeper Mark Ridgers, who made his block count.
The two teams were cancelling each other out as the second half unfolded. Heavy home pressure saw a Doran smashed blocked by Marc McAusland, with Gary Teale’s men retreating into a rearguard action. The game was crying out for inspiration and it finally came in the 77th minute.
From a Tansey pass, David Raven took a superb touch past Tesselar on the extreme right outside the box.
The Liverpudlian right-back then stormed inside and rolled the ball to Mckay whose clever, cheeky back-heel spun past Ridgers for his seventh goal of the season.
Teale was distraught that his team’s efforts had come to nothing. He said: “I’m standing here gutted after another hard luck story for us. But in terms of performance, desire and everything I could I ask I thought we were excellent.
“I thought we deserved a point. We were unfortunate when Kenny slipped in the corner and that led to a goal.
“We came up here against a very good Inverness side who have been at the top of the game, and frustrated them.
“But I thought we created enough half-chances, like Inverness, to take something from the game.
“It’s difficult to come in and say anything to the players, because they’ve given everything.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to keep doing the things we are doing, and hope it will change.
“We are working hard in preparation and in training. We just need that wee bit of luck now to get us a result.”
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