Stuart Kettlewell admits the latest transfer rumours floating round Ross Stewart are the last thing he needs as he looks to coax the Ross County ace back onto the goal trail.
Reports on Monday claim Derek McInnes is set to make a bid to lure the Staggies striker to Aberdeen on a pre-contract.
The 24-year-old – who is out of contract next summer – has been repeatedly linked with moves away from Dingwall on the back of a string of impressive displays up front.
But while the big forward has proved an effective tool for taking County up the pitch, he has not been quite so ruthless in opposition boxes so far this season.
He has scored six goals this term but five have come from penalties and the one strike he did manage in open play was against Championship outfit Arbroath in a Betfred Cup clash.
Now Kettlewell – who saw Stewart miss a golden chance to equalise during his side’s 2-0 defeat Aberdeen on Saturday – admits he could do without the latest speculation surrounding his star man.
Asked if it was the last thing he needs, the Staggies boss said: “It is. But knowing the guy so well I know it doesn’t throw Ross off track.
“We want him scoring in open play and he’s desperate to find the back of the net.
“He’s a victim of his own success, I suppose. He’s done well this season and the stand out game was obviously the game at Parkhead in the Betfred Cup given how he led the line for us.
“I understand there’s going to be speculation on his future. But fundamentally we have to try to get him hitting the back of the net here.
“We have a busy spell leading up to January and plenty of games to showcase what he’s good at. Hopefully for us, that’s hitting the back of the net.”
Kettlewell has already made a move of his own after securing the return of right-back Jason Naismith to the club next month and he hopes to call in further fresh recruits to boost his side after watching them sink to the bottom of the Premiership table.
“It’s safe to say we’re looking at all options,” he said. “We’re looking to see if there is the right player out there.
“Jason coming in next month gives us a real good quality player and if other options come up, not just in the striker position, then it’s something we’ll definitely look at.
“We have to improve our results, our goal-scoring, the number of goals we’re conceding. All facets of the game we have to improve on as things stand.”
County stunned Celtic in the last round of the Betfred Cup but there was no bounce after that Parkhead shock as they slumped against Rangers and Aberdeen.
But Kettlewell hopes victory over Livingston in Wednesday’s quarter-final clash can act as a launch pad to league survival.
He said: “Our last outing in this competition was a very good one and one we were hoping was going to give us a real lift.
“But we’ve had some tough games. Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ve had a Rangers team that’s doing exceptionally well at home and Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
“But we have to look at this as an opportunity – as will Livingston – to get to a national trophy semi-final at Hampden.
“We have to thrive on that and view it as something which can catapult us forward and give us some sort of momentum in the league campaign.”
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