ARGUABLY the worst injury crisis in their history has failed to sink them. Now, with numbers returning for Inverness Caley Thistle there must be genuine hope of another fruitful push into the Premiesrhip’s top six.
Scorers: Inverness – Vigurs (14′, 32′); Kilmarnock – Connolly (87′)
Certainly, for long spells yesterday, it was clear the spark was back and serious progress looks eminently achievable.
Iain Vigurs, released by Motherwell last summer, has been one who has toiled less with injury than with a dearth of match sharpness. That period is clearly almost behind him as two fine goals testified.
The midfielder ditched unceremoniously by Terry Butcher back in 2009 showed, perhaps for the first time in this career spell, that he still holds all the talents that shone brightly along the road at Ross County.
“It has taken us a while to get Iain up to speed. He was out for a long, long time,” manager John Hughes acknowledged after watching his team hold out for three points.
“We still don’t know if he has 90 minutes in him and that’s what he has to work to get to. There is no doubting his football ability. His left foot is like a wand.
“What he needs to do is add all the dirty stuff, 90 minutes up and down the pitch, getting stuck in, winning headers.”
Caley Thistle were unexpectedly without midfield mainstay Ross Draper, recently out with an ankle injury. Nat Wedderburn stepped in for his first appearance in more than a month.
Killie, likewise, made just one change with Kevin McHattie replacing suspended Stuart Findlay.
Killie, for all their recent woes, began the match with plenty of energy and intent, driving at the hosts without seriously threatening. Kris Boyd tried an ambitious lob after finding space outside the box but hooked it well wide.
There was similar profligacy from the hosts soon after with defender Gary Warren wild with a 25 yard tilt.
The developing pattern was one of home control, though, and the reward came after 15 minutes.
There was hesitancy between Killie’s McHattie and Conrad Balatoni to the right of the away penalty area. Liam Polworth was quick to take advantage and squared to Vigurs to sweep home with minimum fuss from six yards.
Some shaky defending and slack possession from Killie hinted at where their problems currently lie. In one instance, a loose Mark Connolly pass might easily have been punished.
Vigurs had only scored once previously since his August return to Inverness but had trebled that tally by the 32nd minute.
Again the threat came on the right, with Miles Storey pulling the ball back and James Vincent dummying.
Killie’s rearguard was static as Vigurs nipped in sharply to nick a 12-yard shot past Jamie Macdonald and in off the inside post.
Killie needed to direct the fire into their attacking play and, again, they started the second half on the front foot, although it never quite crystallised into convincing attacking play.
The Highlanders pushed for a killer third and went close after 69 minutes, with substitute Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo’s clever back-heel flick inside at the edge of the box finding Polworth. His strike rippled the side net.
Killie’s work-rate couldn’t be faulted but they were lacking inspiration. A Josh Magennis snapshot wide barely raised home pulses.
But, testament to Killie’s spirit, the away side managed a late reply, three minutes from time, with Steven Smith’s corner from the right steered into the net by skipper Mark Connolly.
Greg Tansey, at the the end, let rip with a fierce free-kick from 30 yards that Macdonald brilliantly turned away at full stretch.
The home palpitations that followed in the final minutes were unexpected and short-lived as the hosts saw it out for three valuable points.