By Ross CraeFollow @JfGpodcasts
The Highlands of Scotland: synonymous with stunning landscapes, rich history, lochs, glens and wildlife. But on Friday night, something else was attracting all the attention. The Highland Derby was back.
Just 14 miles separate Ross County’s Dingwall home and the Caledonian Stadium in Inverness. The fact that there is even a top flight game between Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Ross County is quite remarkable considering that both clubs weren’t even part of the Scottish Football League until 1994.
Now the two are at the top table of Scottish football and this was their very first meeting in the SPL.
Before the clash, the pair sat level on points and goal difference. Inverness hit four past an unusually woeful Dundee United in their last fixture with Terry Butcher’s men showing no mercy and hammering the Tangerines.
County had also scored four at the weekend, but in entirely different circumstances. Away at St Mirren, County’s valiant efforts to square the match were ruined by a late strike from the Buddies. 5-4 was the incredible scoreline from a thrilling game.
As the Staggies prepared to lock horns with Caley Thistle, the 40 game unbeaten run that they had held onto up until two weeks ago at St Johnstone was put firmly in the past and the sights were set on creating a new one.
County captain Richard Brittain was back in the side and Inverness welcomed back Owain Tudor-Jones from suspension to add some steel in the midfield area.
Ross Tokely, who had the record number of Inverness appearances, lined up in the County defence but seemed to think he was still a Caley Thistle player, heading off his own crossbar in the early seconds.
Inverness came out of the traps quickly and piled on the pressure early in the game, with balls into the box towards Richie Foran causing problems for the Staggies defence. County didn’t deal with crosses well last week against St Mirren and continued to be shaky. Inverness took the lead after 8 minutes, slack defending at a corner allowing Ross Draper to score.
County came back into the game and looked sharper but Inverness soon went 2-0 up. Foran showed great awareness, capitalising on a mistake from another ex-Inverness star, Grant Munro, before cutting back for Andrew Shinnie to add a second for the home side.
Inverness dominated possession, County missing the influence of Stuart Kettlewell in midfield to disrupt the play. County far too often played the ball too short and gave away possession cheaply. Colin McMenamin was left isolated at times, and the only chances were coming from set pieces.
Derek Adams had a decision to make at half time, but opted not to make any changes. What he did do was make sure his team were fired up, and they got the perfect start as a sublime free-kick from yet another ex-Inverness player, Iain Vigurs, gave the Staggies hope of getting back in the game.
The goal boosted County’s confidence and it was their turn to dominate as the pendulum swung in their favour. County’s passing and movement were much improved and they started to put more balls into the box and create more chances, Inverness finding it difficult to hold back waves of County attack. They dealt with the crosses well, however, and kept their lead intact.
Richard Brittain has a fantastic range of passing, and pinged the ball up to Marc Fitzpatrick who had made a run down the right flank only for him to flash a cross across the face of goal. County were certainly getting closer and closer to an equaliser.
In the last ten minutes both teams were desperate to get a goal. Despite the best efforts of the Staggies, it was Aaron Doran who got it in the 87th minute and it was a magnificent strike – a stunning volley past Michael Fraser to seal the points and bragging rights for Terry Butcher’s men.
Inverness have now gone 5 games unbeaten, but concerns are mounting for Ross County who are without a win in 5. The game itself was terrific to watch, and the Highland derby is certainly a welcome addition to the SPL. Part Two takes place in Dingwall on January 2nd.