Billy Dodds praised his Caley Thistle high-risers for responding to their Premier Sports Cup exit in the summer by remaining in the Championship hunt as Christmas approaches.
The Inverness CT head coach was thrilled to see his side return to top spot in the Championship on Friday thanks to a sweet strike from skipper Sean Welsh earning a 1-0 victory over Kilmarnock.
The 0-0 between close chasers Arbroath and Raith Rovers on Saturday keeps ICT in first spot, but only three points split the first five sides.
Killie, the team with the biggest budget and deepest resources after dropping down from the Premiership in May, have now lost twice to the Highlanders and Dodds hailed their staying power.
Great way to start the weekend! +3 and clean sheet! Some performance from the lads and a decent strike from the skipper 👀👏🏼👏🏼
Enjoy your weekend 🍻🥂🔵🔴 #ICTFC
— Mark Ridgers (@MarkRidgers) December 3, 2021
He said: “For us, I think we’ve had a brilliant season so far, especially after the disappointment of the Premier Sports Cup. The boys have reacted brilliantly since then.
“I am delighted with the season overall and we are continuing to grow. We will see where we are at the end of the season, but these are big results.
“I love the way we go about most games. Sometimes, we need to be a bit more streetwise, but we work our socks off, every day in training or in games. Nobody has given us a hiding and that’s down to our hard work.”
Two Greenock clashes in spotlight
Inverness now face Morton in the Scottish Cup replay on Tuesday then in the league on Saturday in Greenock and their hosts will do so after sacking boss Gus MacPherson.
The Ton board’s decision after their 2-2 draw with Ayr United at the weekend left them in joint-bottom position alongside Queen of the South and Dunfermline Athletic with a bottom half of the league also split by just three points.
The focus switches to trying to defeat lowly Morton twice in two competitions, but Dodds knows that seeing off Killie for a second time was a damaging blow to their opponents, who led the division before Friday’s match.
Dodds said: “It was a brilliant result, but there is a long way to go.
“We have the Scottish Cup on Tuesday and the league game against Morton down there before we play Hamilton and Partick Thistle. We’re looking forward to it and it gives us momentum going into those ones.
“It’s great to be the teams round about you. If you do that, you’ll not be too far away.”
Dodds calls for side to be more direct
The former Scotland, Aberdeen and Rangers goal-grabber’s only frustration at full-time was that he’s been urging his players to have more belief and have a pop at goal like Welsh did for the vital moment on 69 minutes.
He added: “Being a former striker, I was greedy and wanted to score goals. I just want to see the players be more direct at times.
“Some of the players are more natural (finishers) than they give themselves credit for. I want them to be a bit more sure of themselves at times.”
Fan power was positive for ICT
The club encouraged the more vocal sections of the ICT crowd to gather in the West Stand for Friday’s showdown and they certainly were heard by the players and management, urging the team on.
Despite the match being live on BBC Scotland, there was still a decent atmosphere generated within the 2,296 attendance.
Dodds said: “It was nice to hear the fans, with the Kilmarnock fans in the South Stand and our boys across in the West Stand. It does make a difference.
“We have good fans here. I would love to get more in the stadium and for them to be more vociferous, but their backing, such as on Friday, helps, along with the away fans. It made for a really good atmosphere and it helped us.”
Wright upset at build-up to winner
Kilmarnock manager Tommy Wright, meanwhile, was disappointed to see his side start slowly and lose control of the ball in the lead-up to Welsh’s winner.
He said: “I don’t think our performance was good enough over the 90 minutes.
“There were spells of the game where we were a little bit better.
“We knew they would look for a fast start and for the first 20 minutes we didn’t compete well enough, couldn’t keep the ball.
“We allowed them to have control of the game without really hurting us.
“At the time they scored, we were probably the team just on top but, again, people want to play their way and lose the ball in midfield.
“It’s a great strike, but we don’t make a tackle at the edge of the box. Up until the strike, there were things we could have done better.
Defeat on the road but the #SuperKillieAway support were outstanding all night.
Thank you and safe journey home pic.twitter.com/gNkFMuYWsv
— Kilmarnock FC (@KilmarnockFC) December 3, 2021
“We’ve lost the ball in a bad area and it was up to Sean Welsh to finish it off, which he did well.
Killie have lost to main promotion rivals ICT, Arbroath, Raith Rovers, Partick Thistle at home, but this was their first loss on their travels.
Wright added: “We’ve had that type of performance at home a few times. It is something we have to address.”