PERCEPTION is a funny thing.
As recently as six weeks ago, earning a point at McDiarmid Park would have been heralded as a success for Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Yet, as the team coach edged away into the night, an unfamiliar feeling of disappointment had settled over the passengers.
Was it a consequence of recording consecutive Clydesdale Bank Premier League draws? Or failing to score in a game for the first time since May 2? No. It was missing the chance to substantially reduce the gap between themselves and Celtic at the summit of the division.
While the past two games have slightly smudged their stellar start to the season – three defeats in 26, or one in 19 if you prefer, while outscoring every team in the top three tiers – Terry Butcher's side are within six points of the leaders with more than half of the campaign complete. Their hopes of cup success also remain intact.
"Beyond our wildest dreams," was how Butcher described the situation. Inverness find themselves in a situation in which eking out a point here and a win there has suddenly become insufficient. Instead, the Highlanders are, for now at least, title contenders, so are expected to win every game.
"We are getting more used to it as the weeks go on," conceded full-back Graeme Shinnie. "We've made massive strides this season, but we need to keep going and build on the good position we are in. There's no pressure on us and if we keep winning games and keep picking up points, we will be up there at the end of the season."
While Shinnie's logic is flawless and his ambition admirable, the reality of maintaining such sensational form is another matter entirely. With 10 of the 18 players stripped on Saturday out of contract in the summer, the next few months will be fraught with distractions, even if extended deals are signed by some or others depart in January.
Furthermore, Inverness have now become a scalp. Teams who would previously have gone toe-to-toe with them are now structuring their approach with containment in mind. Take St Johnstone, for example. The Perth side, according to Butcher, smothered his side's attacking ambitions and were rewarded with only a second clean sheet of the campaign.
That such solidity compromised the hosts' attacking prowess was deemed a necessary evil given the threat that Inverness present, but a lack of goals is becoming increasingly concerning to manager Steve Lomas. Only three sides have rippled the rigging fewer times this term, and each have games in hand on St Johnstone, for whom draws are threatening to scuttle a previously promising campaign.
"We're not going to get any-where if we continually draw," said defender Dave Mackay, referring to a run of six in nine games. "You're actually better losing a couple and winning a couple.
"It's been holding us back and it's not good enough if we want to achieve third or fourth place. If you win a couple, you can climb back up the league pretty quickly, but if you lose a couple, you can be second bottom. It's that tight."