Keeper Mark Ridgers reckons Inverness must block out the noise surrounding silent stadiums and return from Dunfermline as winners tonight.
The Inverness number one will be between the sticks as the Caley Jags hunt three points to at least keep within three points of Championship leaders Arbroath, who they face at Gayfield on Sunday.
Arbroath’s game tonight at home to Hamilton has been postponed due to Covid and injuries within the Accies camp, meaning Inverness now the chance to go joint-top again with a win.
ICT were allowed to have their home Boxing Day match against Partick Thistle postponed with Covid and injuries taking them down to just eight available players including two keepers.
The Scottish Government have laid down three-week guidelines whereby clubs are allowed just 500 fans maximum inside their grounds to help curb the spread of the Omicron Covid variant.
Against second-bottom Dunfermline this evening, there will be no fans inside East End Park as the Pars were one of the clubs who have opted against opening the ground for 500 punters or less due to the costs involved.
Ridgers appreciates there’s plenty off the field to ponder right now, but is determined to help the north side earn maximum points after a draw and defeat against their opponents so far this term.
He said: “No matter what is going on, we have to remain focused and try and win as many games as we can. We will see where we are at come the end of April.
“Fixtures come thick and fast at this time of year, so we need to pick up as many points as we can, like we did in the first part of the season.
“If we can do that, or do even better, then come April hopefully we’re at the right end of the table.”
Atmosphere always boosts players – Ridgers
Last year, in the early stages of the pandemic, players returned to the pitch and experienced empty stands. This time, they must do it having experienced supporters urging them on up until now this term.
Inverness number one Ridgers expects going back to closed-door action to be a bit harder this time.
He said: “You can’t really block it out, but we’ve been in this situation before.
“Previously, it took a few games to get used to what was going on. It took time to get used to fans being back in again and having that atmosphere. That has been taken away again.
“I prefer having the fans in the ground creating an atmosphere. You get a wee buzz before the games, for example.
“Previously, it was just about getting back to playing the games. This time, we continue to play.
“It is disappointing it has come to this again, but people’s health and safety throughout the whole pandemic is the priority.
“With the rules and protocols, we were short for the game on Sunday, but I think we will see a lot more of it (outbreaks at clubs). Touch wood, it doesn’t happen to us again, but you never know.”
No fans inside East End Park
While the 31-year-old experienced shot-stopper would rather be playing in front of even just home fans, he is aware Dunfermline and all clubs must weigh up the numbers during this three-week period of restrictions, which could be extended.
He added: “It comes down to the financial side of things. To bring in stewards, police and all the other costs involved, some clubs will realise it’s not financially doable to supervise 500 fans who would be spread out around the ground.
“That’s the decision Dunfermline made, while other clubs have gone the other way.
“It is disappointing, but given the way things are going in the world it is here for at least a few more weeks. Fingers crossed it’s not going to be longer than that.”
Virus not going away any time soon
With the Inverness player pool affected by Covid, either as positives or close contacts – or through injury – last weekend, Ridgers expects the impact of the virus to be ongoing in the sport for some time yet.
He said: “It’s the way of the world and we have seen other teams be affected by it. There were also a couple of other games called off on Sunday, so as bad as it is we just have to get on with it.
“The biggest disappointment is the lack of fans. That is going to be a big loss for a lot of teams.
“But we have been here before and we know what to expect. We’re not going into the unknown, which is the only promising aspect.
“We’re as ready as we can be and we’ll have to deal with whatever comes in the next few weeks as it’s not going away any time soon.”
ICT’s last match was on December 18, when they saw a 1-0 second half lead slip in a 2-1 home defeat to Hamilton, so they aim to respond and keep firmly in the title hunt going into 2022.