JOHN Hughes last night threw down the gauntlet to European rivals Aberdeen and Dundee United – and warned that all of the pressure was on them.
The new Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager knows pundits are tipping United and Aberdeen to overturn the Highlanders in the chase for Europa League places.
But, while the in-form pair can boast much bigger budgets than Inverness, Hughes insists they have big pressures to match. In contrast, Hughes feels his modestly-funded Inverness squad can head into the festive season playing with much more freedom than rival clubs hot on their trail.
Hughes, who also revealed that attacker James Vincent was back on the recovery trail, said: “There are some big clubs chasing us in second place – teams a lot of people will see as favourites. And rightly so, when you consider the budgets those teams have.
“With the spending power they have, they have to be looking to overtake us but we’re going to try and hang in there as long as we can. That’s a challenge in itself, but it’s a challenge we’re up for. We want that challenge and we’re not going to shy away from it.
“We’re going to stay up there as long as we can and see where it takes us. Their budgets are very big compared to ours, so all of the pressure is on these guys to go and catch us. There’s no pressure on us. We’re happy being there. The demands are to stay there as long as we can. We fear no-one and we’ll just take it one game at a time.”
Under Terry Butcher, Caley Thistle finished a record fourth last season, breaking into the top six for the first time in their short history and ending up just one result short of Europe. Hughes believes it is only natural to strive to go one step further this season.
The 49-year-old, who has been preparing his side for tomorrow’s league match against Hearts at Tynecastle, stressed: “You are always looking to improve it. Football evolves, but I’ve been in the game long enough to know you’re only as good as your last performance and result. You can’t gaze too far into the future. It’s an old cliche but you do take it one game at a time. On Saturday against St Mirren, by their own admission, the boys say they weren’t at their best.
“That brought a smile to my face actually because I saw a lot of good stuff in the match. My goalkeeper wasn’t getting beaten. My two centre halves, I felt, were warriors when they had to be, good footballers when they had to be.
“I had Richie Foran playing a real captain’s role – I thought he was man of the match, especially in the second half. I’ve got big Ross Draper who will get in there and score goals. The full-backs were absolutely solid and then among those four up front, although it wasn’t really their day, I see plenty of individual talent. On any given day, any one of them could be an individual matchwinner.
“What I’m trying to do is getting them to combine a bit more. I’m in no rush to change too much. All I’m trying to do is give them a wee option. I don’t want them to play my way and use the way they’ve been playing as an option. I’ll just maybe paint a wee picture for them that this or that might happen in the game. The great thing is I’ve got guys who want to learn.”