Saturday told Caley Thistle head coach Billy Dodds what he already knew.
The recruitment of Derek McInnes as the new Kilmarnock manager has given the Championship favourites a shot in the arm, a fresh energy and lift at the right time.
The former Aberdeen manager watched on as Killie, who had lost twice to ICT this season, were 1-0 winners in this close contest.
It lifted the victors ahead of the Caley Jags into second spot, two points clear having played one game less.
They are now only one point behind leaders Arbroath, whose game against Partick Thistle was postponed due to the stormy weather. These two meet at Gayfield on Friday.
Ex-Rangers and Hearts striker Kyle Lafferty scored 13 goals in 13 games last season, which wasn’t enough to save the club from relegation from the top-flight.
Now back from a spell with Anorthosis Famagusta in Cyprus, he’s eager to remind fans he’s as lethal as they come in Scotland. The Kilmarnock supporters didn’t need reminding.
After making an appearance from the bench in the 2-1 extra-time Scottish Cup loss to Dundee United, he made a start for Killie against ICT.
He crashed home the only goal of the match in the ninth minute when he slammed a shot past Mark Ridgers from a cross from on-loan Hibs winger Daniel Mackay, formerly of Inverness.
The goal sparked scenes of jubilation for the home faithful at Rugby Park in what was the first home league game for McInnes since he replaced Tommy Wright in the New Year.
What followed was a hectic spell, of high intensity play as the hosts sensed a chance to make a statement and finish ICT off.
Caley Thistle dug in and looked alert themselves at times, with loanees Sam Pearson from Bristol City and Logan Chalmers from Dundee United handed starts after coming off the bench last weekend in the 1-1 draw at Dunfermline.
Inverness, for the second game running, were without Billy Mckay and they’ll hope their 12-goal forward is back for the match against Morton on Saturday.
ICT keeper Ridgers was key to keeping Killie out further and a handball offence prevented substitute Euan Murray from scoring when he netted from a Fraser Murray set-piece early in the second half.
The ending to the game was tense for the hosts. A poor miss from ex-Ross County forward Oli Shaw added to the frustration as the home fans feared the worst.
Stoppage time even saw Ridgers race up to provide an outlet for a corner kick, but it wasn’t to be.
When the final whistle blew, their fans were relieved, but also seemed invigorated by a team which feels they are on the up under McInnes. The result took them into second place, replacing ICT there.
ICT needed to match hosts’ energy
Dodds explained to his players the key to having success here was to do what they did well in their two wins against them already this season and that was match Killie’s drive and thrust.
He said: “I knew Derek (McInnes) would have brought an energy to Kilmarnock and I said to the players we needed to match that. We have beaten them twice this season by doing that. I thought three-quarters of my team did that in the first half.”
Dodds also asked a few of his players to believe in themselves and the team as they target promotion.
He added: “I thought, to be honest, in the first half two or three of our players didn’t believe we are going to be the personnel to go on and win the Championship.
“I wanted them to believe and I said to them we must match Killie’s energy because I know they brought that to the Dundee United match last week. That’s how they started against us.”
The closest ICT came to scoring was a searing shot from Tom Walsh which Zach Hemming saved superbly in the first half.
Penalty advice for on-loan striker
Dodds had a word in the ear of on-loan Accrington Stanley forward Joe Hardy for not going down when challenged in the box in a scoring position as ICT hunted a draw.
He said: “I thought young Joe Hardy was going to stick it in the net. After rounding the keeper, he should have gone down first time and it would have been a penalty if he had done that.”
FT: Kilmarnock 1-0 ICTFC
Kyle Lafferty's first-half goal separates the sides.
Thanks to Caley Away for your great support today pic.twitter.com/LvPe5OCUgi
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) January 29, 2022
Successive home games against Morton then Partick Thistle now take on greater significance for ICT as they target their first win since December 11 when they crushed the Ton 6-1 at Cappielow.
HOW THEY LINED UP
KILMARNOCK (4-4-2) – Hemming 6, Hodson 6, Sanders 6 (Euan Murray 46), Taylor 6, Haunstrup 6, McKenzie 7, Tait 6 (McGinn 88), Fraser Murray 6, Mackay 6 (Alston 73), Shaw 6, Lafferty 7 (Burke 68). Subs not used: Walker (GK), Waters, Armstrong, Polworth, Cameron.
CALEY THISTLE (4-4-1-1) – Ridgers 6, Duffy 6 (Nicolson 82), Broadfoot 6, Deas 6, Harper 6 (Carson 82), McAlear 7, Welsh 6, Walsh 6 (Hardy 46), Pearson 6 (Samuels 63), Chalmers 6, Sutherland 6 (Duku 87). Subs not used: Mackay (GK), Hyde.
REFEREE – Don Robertson.
ATTENDANCE – 4790.
MAN OF THE MATCH – Rory McKenzie.