BILLY Dodds, the Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager, tonight lauded his players for their gallant performance in their Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic at Hampden and targeted promotion back to the Premiership next season.

The Highlanders, who finished sixth in the cinch Championship this season and had not played competitively for nearly five weeks, were massive underdogs going into the meeting with the treble-chasing Glasgow giants today. 

They fell behind to a Kyogo Furuhashi strike in the first-half and went two down in the second when a Liel Abada goal was allowed to stand after a lengthy VAR check for offside.

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However, substitute Danny McKay gave the second tier outfit hope with six minutes remaining when he got on the end of a Wallace Duffy cross and headed beyond Celtic goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Jota made it 3-1 in injury-time to secure a hard-fought victory for the Parkhead club and complete a world-record eighth treble to the delight of over 40,000 of their jubilant supporters.

However, Dodds was proud of how Sean Welsh and his team mates performed against the Scottish champions and expressed hope they can use the experience to launch a push for the top flight next term.

“Right now I’m feeling everything a losing manager feels,” he said. “I’m disappointed, but proud at the same time.

“There’s a massive gulf between those teams out there, but we asked them questions at certain times. Having said that, we then lost goals at bad times.

“We were trying to get to half-time. I had a plan in my head for where we went from there, but then they scored late.

“Then we lost a second just when I was planning an attacking change – and after Daniel got one back, we lost a third right at the end.

“There aren’t many games when we don’t score goals, so I had it in my head to have a real go just when Abada made it 2-0. For once in my life, I was praying for VAR!"

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Dodds added: “I love working with this group, they’re tremendous boys who love coming to work every day. All I’ve told them in the dressing room us to realise how good a team they are.

“Now, I just hope we get a better rub of the green with injuries next season, because our aim has to be promotion.

“I’m not going to Caley Thistle are going to win the league, because we’ll be up against Dundee United and either Ross County or Partick Thistle, with Ayr coming again and Raith spending money, so it’ll be tough. But promotion has to be the aim.”