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One striking difference between Highland foes

Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County can consider themselves united on one issue:

Billy McKay scored four times against Ross County last season
Billy McKay scored four times against Ross County last season

both will be watching Billy McKay's every move. For County, the scrutiny must last for the 90 minutes of this afternoon's Highland derby. For Inverness there must be a whole month of wondering whether their prolific goalscorer will be the subject of an irresistible offer. The transfer window is now open, which means new manager John Hughes, and all their supporters, cannot entirely relax until it is closed.

Peterborough, Rotherham and Burnley have been linked with moves for McKay and the man himself did not exactly dismiss the idea of leaving soon when he was asked ahead of today's game. "The chairman has said they don't want to sell me and the manager has said that as well. It is up to them. If they don't want to sell me what can I do? I am signed on for 18 months and I am very happy here."

A fee of £1m had been suggested, which underlines the extraordinary progress made by the 25-year-old who has become a Northern Ireland internationalist since arriving from Northampton in 2011. "The chairman is trying to warn people off with that price tag," he said. "I have not let it affect me, I had the same sort of thing last December. I have been happy here after the first four or five months. I wasn't playing then and I didn't enjoy it. Since I got into the team I have been happy for the last two years. I just want to carry on scoring for Inverness."

So far this season he has scored 17 in all competitions (as many as County have managed in the SPFL Premiership). He is under contract until the summer of 2015 and if he stays for the remainder of this campaign he is comfortably on course to beat the 27 he scored last season. Had he set himself a target? "It is something I have not really done before," he said. "If you set a target and you don't reach it you will be disappointed. I have not scored in two now, so I go into the next game really wanting to score."

In their 1-0 home defeat by Celtic last Sunday afternoon, McKay was uncharacteristically quiet. Hughes played him up front on his own and the attempt to support him with Aaron Doran, Nick Ross and Marley Watkins did not work. Virgil van Dijk and Efe Ambrose were given little to do. Inverness will be more offensive against County than they were against Celtic, of course, not least because their neighbours have the worst defensive record in the Premiership so far. Last season McKay scored four against them.

His overall rate of goalscoring has remained unchanged, but the same cannot be said of the context of the Highland derby. Last season both clubs finished in the top six and were in contention for a Europa League place until the very last games. The contests were a battle of equals. This season Inverness are again comfortably in the top six, whereas County have struggled and sit second bottom, 13 points clear of Hearts but still vulnerable because of the relegation play-offs. Hughes' side are strong favourites.

There were six Highland derbies last season, including a Scottish Cup tie and replay, but this season has reached the halfway stage without one. Without one which finished, at least. They started a game in Dingwall on October 25 but had to call it quits at half-time when the floodlights failed.

"The atmosphere is always good and the last one before it got stopped was really good," said McKay. "When you think of the atmosphere in the derby game you think of the friendly rivalry and everything else that comes with it. I think it is good for the Highlands to have two teams up here. Hopefully County won't go down. We will be trying our best to beat them but we are just going to stick to our game plan and treat it like every other game. We won't treat it like a derby."

There has been one big change since the abandoned game in October, of course. Hughes will savour his first all-Highland fixture having replaced Terry Butcher last month. His derby experience extends to those he played in while with Swansea City, Celtic, Hibernian and Ayr United, and those he had as manager at Easter Road. "I know what they mean to the supporters," he said. "It's about bragging rights and we will make sure that message is put into the dressing room. We are looking forward to it.

"It's a full house and it's a cracking Highland derby. Nothing is guaranteed because in this league everyone is capable of beating each other. It is all about where you are at the end of the season, but we will be well prepared. I have been asking one or two of the supporters and they tell me it is a friendly derby. It's passionate, but it's friendly."

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