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Duncan Shearer: Billy Mckay’s impact will determine Caley Thistle’s Scottish Cup hopes against Celtic

Veteran striker will be the key man for Billy Dodds' side against Celtic at Hampden.

Billy McKay all smiles after opening the scoring in Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden.
Billy Mckay has a huge role to play at Hampden. Image: SNS

The key man for Caley Thistle and their hopes of pulling off an almighty shock in the Scottish Cup final on Saturday is the same man who will likely have the least touches of the ball at Hampden.

Billy Mckay will shape Caley Jags’ cup final prospects when they face Celtic at the National Stadium.

Daniel MacKay’s pace out wide will be important, too, but Billy’s ability to hold the ball up, draw fouls, give his team-mates some respite and get his side up the pitch will be crucial.

Do not expect a high press from Billy Dodds’ Championship side.

That would be a foolish approach as Celtic are simply too good at handling that and can cut through their Premiership rivals with ease when they try it.

I expect Inverness to drop off, tighten up the spaces in between the lines and all the other coaching jargon you want to use to describe staying compact in formation.

No, it’s about restricting the space for the opposition to play in, force them to pass the ball sideways or backwards, and break quickly when you get the chance.

Challenging build-up for Inverness

When I saw how Celtic revved up for the final with an impressive display in a dominant 5-0 win against Aberdeen on Saturday it is a cause for concern.

The contrast with Ange Postecoglou resting and rotating players means Celtic will be fresh for Hampden.

Celtic’s Oh Hyeon-Gyu celebrates after scoring against Aberdeen on Saturday. Image: SNS

Caley Thistle’s preparation for the game has been anything but straightforward, given they haven’t played competitively in weeks.

But what Doddsy has said in the build-up to the game is spot-on – his players cannot let the hype and sense of occasion take control of their emotions.

This is the showpiece game of the Scottish football calendar. The Scottish Cup final – with the whole country watching.

It’s David vs Goliath as a Championship team tries to take on a giant of Scottish football in the treble-chasing Hoops.

But just because it’s Celtic, it doesn’t mean they get a two-goal start.

The game starts goalless and how long Caley Thistle can keep it that way is vital.

I’m expecting a cagey 4-5-1 formation from the team and the aim will be to get through the first 20 minutes without conceding. From there it’s about trying to get to half-time goalless.

Celtic are such strong favourites that even for Inverness to be leading the game after 45 minutes would be a shock. That’s how big a challenge this is for the Highlanders.

On Saturday, every Caley Thistle player needs to perform to their best, individually and collectively.

Daniel MacKay celebrates after scoring to make it 2-0 Inverness in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Falkirk. Image: SNS

If they play as they can and keep Celtic from scoring, then the nerves among the Hoops fans will start to jangle.

It’s a huge ask, but not an impossible task.

Caley Thistle have earned the right to be at Hampden on Saturday. These chances don’t come around too often and above all else the players should enjoy it.

As we’ve seen this season already, cup shocks the likes of which you would not have dreamed possible, can happen.

It happened for Darvel against Aberdeen.

Caley Thistle have to believe it can happen for them, too.

Nerves will be fraught at Ross County

Jordan White receives treatment against Kilmarnock. Image: SNS

While one half of the Highlands will be dreaming of cup glory this weekend, the other half face a nervy finale to their season on Sunday.

Ross County’s 3-1 defeat at Kilmarnock on Sunday means they must face Partick Thistle in two-legged play-off this week to secure their place in the Premiership for next season.

I’m disappointed from what I saw from Rugby Park at the weekend, as the Staggies just didn’t get going at all.

It was not as if it was Celtic Park or Ibrox they were travelling to needing to win – it was Kilmarnock, a team who have struggled as much as County have this season.

It was hardly the proverbial mountain to climb.

But the biggest criticism I can lay at County is they can have no complaints with the result. They didn’t perform when it mattered and the only saving grace is they have one more opportunity to put it right against the Jags.

Former Staggie is Partick’s main threat

I’ve seen a lot of Partick in the last couple of months and for me they are playing as if they are a Premiership outfit.

Make no mistake, County have a real fight on their hands this week.

It is good for County the first leg is at Firhill on Thursday as it gives them a chance to see what they are up against before the decisive second leg on Sunday at Victoria Park.

Staggies supporters need no insight into the threat former County striker Brian Graham presents.

Partick Thistle striker Brian Graham. Image: SNS

He’s a handful if given the chance, but I would hope his abrasive and physical style is one the County defenders will relish taking on.

At the other end of the pitch, I hope Jordan White is fit to play.

He was forced off on Sunday due to a head wound.

I don’t believe it was a concussion issue, so that gives him a chance of being involved.

County need him, too.

This is not a day out to savour like the Scottish Cup final Caley Thistle have. This is pure tension when your whole season is on the line.

Dons back where they belong as best of the rest

Barry Robson has done a remarkable job at Aberdeen. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

Saturday was a game too far for Aberdeen as they ran out of steam against a rampant Celtic in Glasgow.

There was a party atmosphere at Celtic Park and Aberdeen, having fought their way to third place, were put to the sword by Ange Postecoglou’s side.

It was a sore one for Barry Robson and his players, but they are better than what they showed on Saturday.

I’m sure Barry is relishing the chance to take a breather after a pretty frantic four months in charge at Pittodrie.

It has been a stressful period for him with one eye on improving the team’s fortunes, while the other was on convincing the directors he should be manager on a permanent basis.

I’m intrigued to see what he does this summer.

The Dons finished the season well by clinching third place and a return to Europe, but there’s a lot of work still to be done there.

Barry will have responsibility for the players coming in and heading out of the club.

There’s a different pressure attached to that role, but the Dons boss has good people around him to make me confident he can be a success there.

Aberdeen are where I expect them to be in the table – best of the rest.

But it’s the first time in five years they’ve achieved that position.

Staying there and trying to close the gap on Celtic and Rangers, all with the added demands of European football, will be an even bigger challenge next season.