Caley Thistle manager John Robertson is gearing his side up for a crucial run of six Championship games which he says will shape the Highlanders’ season.
Inverness make the trip to Queen of the South tonight with a point separating them from the play-off places after five games.
Caley Jags will then face games against Dundee, Alloa Athletic, Morton, Dunfermline and Arbroath before they enter the Scottish Cup at the second round stage on January 9.
Robertson feels the upcoming run of fixtures will be vital in determining which part of the league Inverness will be challenging during the final stretch of the truncated 27-game season.
Robertson said: “There is a run of six games between now and the Scottish Cup on January 9, and we feel that after those matches everybody in the league will understand what they’re playing for.
“Suddenly we’ll only have 16 games left, so we need to strike early and get points on the board if we want to be involved at the top end of the table, and avoid defeats if you don’t want to be at the bottom.
“It’s a crucial run coming up for a lot of teams, and it’s one that we also want to try and take advantage of to get as many points on the board as possible.
“It’s strange, we’re now into December and we’ve only played five league matches, which is completely bizarre.
“This would normally be us coming towards the end of the second quarter, and we would be saying we need to get points on the board to get into the play-offs, or avoid a relegation battle.
“It’s still the first round of matches though, so while you normally shouldn’t be too concerned knowing that there’s plenty time to catch up if things aren’t going right, that’s not the case this year.
“You don’t have time to rest on your laurels.
“At the moment we’re sitting in the middle of the league, and if we get a couple of wins we will be involved in the top two or three, and if we have a couple of defeats we will be in the bottom two or three.
“You’ve really got to treat this as though it’s the second quarter of the season, when you have to move.
Inverness go into tonight’s game with a three-point gap above the Doonhamers, and Robertson insists it is crucial to build a bigger distance ahead of the teams below them.
Robertson added: “Every game is crucial, but it does become a little bit more critical when you’re against the teams around you.
“We can push away from Morton and Dundee for 24 hours, or we can get pulled into the pack if Queens beat us – and that’s exactly what they will be thinking.
“They’re all vital games, but we want to go down and get all three points.
“Queens are on four points, but they absolutely hammered Dundee United last year at Palmerston, so on their day they are absolutely capable.
“We’ve said to ourselves that we’ve got to build on the Raith performance.
“It was a very good performance and a very good result, but we’ve got to build on that and push towards the top.”
Robertson has welcomed back a number of long-term absentees in recent weeks, with midfielder David Carson stepping up his recovery by playing an hour in a friendly against Strathspey Thistle on Monday.
Defenders Lewis Toshney and Kevin McHattie remain sidelined however.