CALEY Thistle have netted a top six spot in the Clydesdale Bank SPL – but Maurice Malpas insists they are thirsty for more!
The Inverness CT assistant boss, and manager Terry Butcher, guided their team over the line on Saturday with Andrew Shinnie’s goal and Billy McKay’s penalty ensuring Paul Lawson wonder-strike didn’t matter in a 2-1 home win against rivals Ross County.
That result ended the Staggies’ 11-game unbeaten run, but also took ICT back to third in the table, just three points behind Motherwell.
On Sunday, Dundee’s draw at neighbours United confirmed that ICT, for the first time, will be playing their last five games next month in the upper half of the table – after games at Hibs then home to St Johnstone after this weekend’s international break.
That will likely mean a trip to champions-elect Celtic and a home game against Motherwell, although the SPL fixture computer may throw that if numbers don’t add up.
For Malpas, though, he says the high-flying Highlanders are not in the mood to say “job done”.
He explained: “After the game on Saturday everybody was trying to work out were we in the top six or not, so Sunday’s result confirmed it and we were delighted. The chairman congratulated us. That’s another first for him as chairman and another first for the club. That’s another benchmark for Terry and I, so we were delighted.
“What is important now is that we kick on. We have seven games left and we want to win all seven. The pressure is off the players now because there are no ifs and buts. However, no-one wants the season to stop here and we can make it even better.
“At Motherwell, we got into the top six and took a wee dip, but we could not finish higher than fifth, but here we are looking to win as many of these remaining games as we can. It’s already been a wonderful season and that’s why we’re third. Players are playing for financial gain, for personal pride and also for the pride of the club. The carrot is there for the players to make this a wonderful season.”
When asked about the real potential of Europa League football should they finish where they are, or even Champions League qualification by overtaking Motherwell, Malpas stressed: “Europe hasn’t been talked about within the dressing room. While we want to win as many of the 21 available points, it’s important that we look no further ahead than the Hibs game then the St Johnstone game then whoever we get after that (in the split). We are all in this together. Not just the players, but also the fans. If things are not going to plan, they can really help us kick on.”
Chairman Kenny Cameron was thrilled to see Butcher and Malpas deliver top six, top-flight football, especially after their budget before a ball was kicked being slashed by a reported £300,000.
He said: “To achieve top six on a reduced financial budget and to clinch a top six spot so early, while other teams are still chasing each other to get there, is a superb achievement.
“Terry, Maurice, skipper Richie Foran and all in our footballing operation deserve special recognition for what they’ve done to become ‘History Boys’.
“And a special pat on the back to our supporters whose backing has played a big part all season. The support they gave us on Saturday was immense they showed up in numbers and were right behind the team from start to finish.”
Cameron added: “We’re a community club, with no one major benefactor, so things are always tight financially, but we’ve no historic debt and no bank overdraft, which makes us the envy of some other clubs.
“Our business model is to spend what we bring in, and not a penny more. It is a recipe which has kept us in the SPL apart from one small blip in season 200910, making steady progress from a solid foundation. That makes reaching the top six particularly satisfying guaranteeing top flight football once again in Inverness next season.
“Terry Butcher’s image and reputation have brought players to this club who would not otherwise have come. The management team have a tremendous thirst and attitude for the game, when things don’t quite go our away, as they at times don’t as that is what football is like, they just dust themselves down put it behind them and move on, an attitude that is to be commended.
“Every year, a player who comes here does so well that he gets a big offer elsewhere. That’s a tribute to the work Terry and Maurice Malpas do in developing players.”
As we went to press, keeper Ryan Esson, who sustained a groin injury in the derby, was due for a scan, but with no game for more than a week it’s hoped he’ll have recovered.