John Rankin told how professional pride and the patter of non-footballing friends drove him and Dundee United to victory in Inverness on Saturday.
The Tannadice men threw a major spanner in the works for Terry Butcher’s Europa League-chasing side who now travel to Dingwall for a last-day derby thriller.
United, in theory, had little to play for, but rose to the occasion superbly in front of a small but boisterous travelling support.
After Aaron Doran’s late first half opener, Ryan Dow hit back soon after the break and Gary Mackay-Steven snatched a stoppage time victory.
Rankin said: “We were in danger of letting our season peter out, weren’t we?
“But today we rolled our sleeves up and got on with it, which we’ve probably been lacking in the last couple of weeks.
“You have to remember there are people going out of contract in the summer who are looking after their own futures, and rightly so.
“People were saying Dundee United had nothing to play for, but we are professionals.
“I even had my pals texting me saying they were taking Caley on the coupon. You have a point to prove if even your own pals are saying that to you.
“I think everyone today battled hard. Some things didn’t come off for the flair players but they kept digging in. They don’t let their heads go down.
“Jon Daly was excellent for us. We’ve been needing something like that putting your body on the line.
“In weeks gone by, you might turn away, but today everyone put their bodies on the line and we were fighting and scrapping until the last kick of the ball. Fair play to Gary Mackay-Steven for popping up at the end.
“It was an open goal but hard when the ball is coming across at that pace and height. It was great technique to put the ball away.”
Caley Thistle’s destiny is still in their own hands, but only just.
St Johnstone remain firmly in the equation and after a monumental missed opportunity home manager Butcher carried a face like thunder long after full-time.
The Englishman knew that victory, and with it the certainty of European football, had been theirs for the taking.
United, missing an entire back four, theoretically, had little to play for but, whatever the motivation, the Tannadice men could easily have been mistaken for European challengers in their own right.
They were at times toothless with Johnny Russell lacking sharpness on his full return from a broken leg and wide men Mackay-Steven and Ryan Gauld decidedly off-colour.
Yet the energy and conviction in United’s overall performance was a credit to them and manager Jackie McNamara.
Billy McKay, with 27 goals to his name, found goalkeeper Radoslaw Cierzniak in formidable form with a brilliant early save and then defiance from the penalty spot.
Rankin downed Aaron Doran just inside the area, but McKay’s kick was kept out superbly, high to the Pole’s left. Doran did send the hosts in front three minutes before the break, with a swirling, low 25-yard strike.
But United, for all their time on the back foot, always looked like a team capable of striking back.
Five minutes into the second half, home fears were realised as Jon Daly nodded Willo Flood’s free-kick across goal for Ryan Dow to strike home at close range.
It became a tale of sustained home pressure and the occasional United counter but the increasing abandon of the hosts back-fired just inside stoppage time.
Armstrong’s ball across the face of goal left Mackay-Steven to seal the points.
Rankin, a United player who has served both halves of the Highland divide, admits there is one heck of a derby match in prospect this Saturday.
He stressed: “To be honest it is one where, if you’re not playing, you probably ask for tickets. Everybody will be desperate to go.
“County are a great club and have a superb set-up. With that stadium full, it will be bouncing. Good luck to both teams, but it’s a hard one to call. The two of them are up there vying for Europe on merit.
“It has taken years of hard work for them to get where they are, but you could always see it happening. Roy MacGregor, the County chairman, always had a vision for the club that I doubt anybody else would have imagined.
“He had the hunger and desire to get that club to where it is today.
“When I came up (from Manchester United), and he sold the club to me, I wouldn’t have thought Ross County could do it. But now they are on the map in a big, big way.
“They got to the 2010 Scottish Cup final and now look at them. They deserve their place among the big clubs in Scotland.”
United manager Jackie McNamara was more than content with United’s application.
He said: “It could have gone either way, to be honest. We had a few chances and so did they, especially with the missed penalty.
“It was a good, open football match. We had the whole back four from the start of the season out, so we had to make changes.
“But I was delighted with the attitude. We’re playing for pride, as footballers you want to win games so we’re delighted.”