Just as football without the fans is nothing, so too is a performance without the hard currency of three points.
Caley Thistle, with 300 supporters joyously filing back into the stadium for the first time in eight months, produced a display of both style and substance on Saturday to reinvigorate their Championship challenge.
A lot of the football was pleasing on the eye, but the positive game plan was underpinned by a steely determination to stop Raith Rovers playing.
James Keatings’ 19th-minute strike was first reward, before Scott Allardice sealed it midway through the second half. In between, there might easily have been another two or three goals for the hosts.
While the presence of fans seemed influential in the improved performance, a gradual replenishing of the ranks is surely also a factor in Caley Thistle’s improvement.
Manager John Robertson was able to pick his strongest bench of the season so far, with the likes of Aaron Doran, Sean Welsh, James Vincent and Nikolay Todorov in reserve.
“The only thing I could fault our players on today is we could have scored more,” Robertson said.
“We feel like we’re getting there. If you look at our bench today with Welsh, Doran, Vincent, Todorov, Daniel Mackay, it’s good to have options.
“We’ve now got 13 days until our next match and certain guys will have to be looked after a wee bit after a heavy run of matches. The rest we’ll get fit.”
Robertson did not hide his pleasure at the manner of the win, adding: “It was an outstanding performance and thoroughly merited three points – and the added bonus is that 300 fans were there to witness it.
“They haven’t seen anything from us since March and would probably have been happy to see any kind of game today, but the quality on show from both teams was tremendous.
“Some of the stuff we played today was outstanding.”
Raith’s first league defeat this season left them three points behind new leaders Dunfermline and three points above Inverness on a weekend where favourites Hearts also lost and the league table tightened.
Both teams made changes after League Cup action, with the hosts recalling first-choice goalkeeper Mark Ridgers, fit-again Miles Storey, Keatings and Brad Mckay.
Cammy Mackay, Harry Nicolson, Aaron Doran and top scorer Todorov stepped down to the bench.
Raith’s confidence and early season momentum shone at the outset, with Ridgers having to look sharp to clear at Manny Duku’s feet. Home defender Danny Devine also did well to recover and tidy up as Ethan Ross threatened to race through on to a Duku pass.
But the first home threat came after eight minutes with Storey collecting a stray ball 25 yards out.
Gliding into space, the English striker unleashed a powerful strike that thumped off the top of the bar.
After 19 minutes, the hosts grasped a vital lead. Again, Storey’s determined running was at the heart of it after Allardice won the ball in midfield, the attacker’s diagonal pass finding Keatings executing a sweet, first-time right foot strike into the bottom-left corner of the net.
Caley Thistle could have doubled the lead just before the half-hour mark, with Shane Sutherland’s supply finding Storey with back to goal eight yards out.
The lively front man swivelled and shot, but, again, struck the top of the bar.
Early in the second half, Caley Thistle went for the kill, but Raith somehow resisted. Roddy MacGregor drew a superb block from Jamie MacDonald with an angled strike, Storey saw another attempt deflect wide and a Keatings’ corner drew loud appeals for a goal, with home players claiming in vain the ball had crossed the line.
It was fine football without deserved reward and Sutherland also had keeper MacDonald scrambling to brilliantly push away another wind-assisted attempt.
Raith worked their way back into the match for a spell, but the hosts shattered that recovery after 68 minutes.
Sutherland played young Rangers loanee Kai Kennedy into space wide left and Storey helped tee up a superbly-flighted cross for Allardice to drill home low past keeper MacDonald.
Substitute Daniel Mackay might have added another with three minutes left but was denied by the keeper.