Ross County goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw hopes a Highland derby victory over Caley Thistle in the Scottish Cup on Friday can tee up the Staggies for their Premiership survival run-in.
County are battling to remain in the top flight, with only two points separating the 10th-placed Dingwall outfit from bottom side Hamilton Accies.
Before the Staggies play their next league match away to Kilmarnock on April 10, John Hughes’ men must turn their focus to Scottish Cup action with an exciting third round tie at home to rivals Inverness this weekend.
With Inverness in the Championship, it will be a first Highland derby meeting between the pair since April 2019, with Hughes coming up against the side who he led to victory in the competition in 2015.
Laidlaw does not see the tie as a distraction, and insists a triumph over their rivals would provide a major boost going into the post-split fixtures.
Laidlaw said: “The Scottish Cup is a great tournament. Everyone wants to be involved in it.
“It’s a home tie, so we’ll be hoping we can progress. We know it will be difficult, but it’s a chance to go on a wee run in the Scottish Cup.
“Our bread and butter is trying to stay in the league, but getting a wee run in the cup could help us as well.
“It’s a Highland derby against Inverness, so it’s a big game. We will look to progress, and hopefully that will kick us on for the split fixtures.”
Although County are in the thick of a relegation battle, their fate remains in their own hands, and Laidlaw feels the Staggies must embrace the pressure in the coming weeks.
He added: “We were bottom of the table at one point this season. We are now ahead of them, not by much, but we would rather be in our position than their’s.
“One result can easily change that – we could easily go from 10th to 12th in the space of one week.
“We just want to keep ahead, so any positive result means we can create a gap if they get a negative one.
“We know the Kilmarnock game coming up is going to be absolutely massive for both teams, as well as the Hamilton one.
“It’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be a really close end to the season. I think everyone knows it’s going to go down to the wire. It will be exciting.
“Some players might be worried about it, or nervous.
“We’ve got to see it as a challenge and enjoy that pressure. Playing football at the top level in Scotland, there is always pressure and challenges.”
Laidlaw has been among County’s best performers this season, and the former Hibernian and Raith Rovers goalkeeper credits Hughes and goalkeeping coach Scott Thomson with bringing out his best form.
The 28-year-old, who is out of contract in the summer, said: “On the whole I think I have had a pretty decent season.
“I have probably been busier than I was last season, but I have enjoyed just playing week-in, week-out.
“One of the reasons I came to Ross County was to try and establish myself as the number one goalkeeper. I hadn’t really done that previously.
“That was one of the reasons I wanted to come up here. Since the new manager has come in, I have played every week and I’ve enjoyed working with him.
“I’ve had that confidence knowing I’m going to play, and he trusts me which is a big thing. It means I can relax when I’m playing.
“A lot of it has been down to Scott Thomson the goalkeeping coach, who has been brilliant since I have come to the club.
“I think I have really kicked on with him. I think a lot of the praise goes to him, not just the manager.
“He has done a lot behind the scenes.”