Until yesterday morning, Brad McKay was psyched for lining up in the Inverness Caledonian Thistle defence against former club Hearts at Tynecastle this weekend.
His plans were dashed, however, when he learned belatedly that he was actually suspended for Saturday’s fixture after picking up a sixth league booking of the season in the defeat by Hamilton Accies a fortnight ago. The 23-year-old will now take his seat in the Tynecastle stand alongside Highland housemate Billy King, who is on loan from Hearts and ineligible to face his parent club.
The absence of McKay leaves beleaguered Inverness short of defenders for their trip to Edinburgh, as Gary Warren is also banned and Josh Meekings is injured. On-loan Celtic youngster Jamie McCart is set to be the only recognised centre-back available to Richie Foran as he bids to thwart a Hearts side who beat them 5-1 in Gorgie back in August and have scored seven goals in their last two league matches.
“I was really looking forward to playing at Tynecastle,” McKay told the Evening News. “I’ve been playing right-back for a lot of this season but, with Gary and Josh out, this was another chance for me to play at centre-back, which is my main position. Tynecastle’s a great place to play and I had got my family tickets for the game and everything – everyone was looking forward to it. But then I found out yesterday I was suspended. I’m gutted. I’ll be travelling down with the boys and I’ll be there supporting them.”
On paper at least, Hearts could ask for no better opponent as they look to reassert themselves following an underwhelming display in Sunday’s goalless draw against Hibs in the Scottish Cup. Inverness lie three points adrift at the foot of the Premiership after a 13-game run without a league win stretching back to October and head to Tynecastle on the back of a 6-0 defeat by Celtic in the Scottish Cup. McKay admits Inverness are enduring a difficult period, but insists they shouldn’t be written off as cannon fodder.
“Your confidence always takes a bit of a hit when you’re on a run like this,” he said. “In some games we’ve not been good enough but in other games we’ve played well but just not got the results we felt we deserved. It’s fine margins in this league and it’s all about getting a result and getting a bit of confidence back.
“Even if we were doing well in the league, everybody’s going to be disappointed after a 6-0 defeat in the cup. But, as a group, we’re not getting too downbeat about it. We’ve got a really good group here and we still believe things will turn for us. Honestly, this is the best group I’ve been part of. Because the majority of us have moved up to Inverness and it’s away from home for a lot of us, we’re all really close because we go out for coffees together and stuff like that. It’s probably a similar situation with the Ross County boys because we’re so far north. We’re all together, and I think that will help us.
“When I was at Hearts in the season we were deducted 15 points, it felt like we had a mountain to climb because of the situation. It doesn’t feel like that here. I genuinely feel like we’ve got enough about us to get out of it. We just need to string a couple of results together to get ourselves going.”
McKay does not expect his team-mates to be lambs to the slaughter at Tynecastle. “It’ll be a really tough game because of the players we’re missing, but we did well in the last game against them when we drew 3-3 at home,” said McKay. “We should have won that day.”
Although results haven’t gone well, McKay’s move to the Highlands has proved fruitful on a personal level. Having become a peripheral figure at Hearts and St Johnstone in recent seasons, he has taken great encouragement from featuring regularly in the Premiership again following a loan stint at Dunfermline in which he helped them seal the League One title last season. Nineteen starts from a possible 22 since arriving at the Caledonian Stadium at the start of September have vindicated his decision to uproot from Edinburgh to the Highlands.
“I’ve always said I need to play regularly, and I’ve had that chance here,” said McKay, who left boyhood club Hearts in summer 2015. “I felt like I started well and we had some good results when I first arrived when we drew against Aberdeen and Celtic. The form we showed earlier in the season tells me that we’re capable of stringing together some results. I’ve played at right-back for quite a lot of the season and I feel I’ve done well there considering it’s not a position I’ve played a lot before. I’ve been back at centre-back in the last few weeks but I’m the first to admit my performances haven’t been good enough recently. It’s been a good move for me overall, though.”