THE difference between second and third place in the SPFL Premiership is not one.

It is two, it is a few hundred thousand, and it is the outcome of a winner-takes-all match on Sunday.

A place in the later stages of the Europa League qualifying rounds brings an extra couple of weeks on the sun loungers and the not insignificant matter of around a quarter of a million pounds. First though, in order to have a chance of reaching the goods spread out on the second-highest step of Scottish football's ladder, Motherwell need to defeat Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

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Six months ago, the fixture would have carried more menace. Even so, despite the downturn in form since John Hughes was appointed manager in the Highlands, the prospect of finishing behind Celtic two years in a row brings it own pressure for this Motherwell side.

Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager, has said that the runner-up spot would cap his season. Make no mistake, there is more than just pride at stake in this battle. "I've just read Derek's comments there, and they mirror mine," Stuart McCall, his counterpart at Fir Park, said.

"The lads will get a couple of extra weeks off, the finances will be better and it's just a fact. To have the opportunity to go up there [to Aberdeen] and even fight for second is just beyond my wildest dreams."

Even second place, and a record points tally and win count, would come with regrets. "I'm an optimistic person, but a realist as well," McCall said. "I'll always look back on the League Cup quarter-final against Aberdeen as an opportunity missed, and the cup defeat at Albion Rovers. But to win 20 out of 36 games, with the injuries we've had . . . the players deserve huge amount of credit. If we could have got to 50 points, that would have been good. I'm proud of their achievements. You can't take the points off us now.

"We've given value for money at home. I know Celtic have scored more but we've scored lots and conceded a load as well! Everyone talks about philosophies and how you want to play but ours as a football club is just to win as many games as you can."

Graeme Shinnie, the consistently impressive Inverness left-back, has an ulterior motive to performing well this evening.

A strong body of local and national opinion believes Shinnie is worthy of a chance in the Scotland set-up. And with McCall part of Gordon Strachan's backroom team, a clean sheet at Motherwell would do his chances of a call-up no harm at all.

Shinnie was asked about his international prospects. "I don't think about that," he said. "People talk about it but I am happy here and being consistent for my club is my aim. If international football was to come along then I would be absolutely honoured."