Dundee United 0-1 Inverness: Caley stay top

Billy McKay rifles the ball into the net to give ICT the lead. Picture: SNS

Billy McKay rifles the ball into the net to give ICT the lead. Picture: SNS

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INverness Caledonian Thistle sit proudly atop the SPFL Premiership, courtesy of a Billy McKay goal and a poor performance by Dundee United.

Inverness manager Terry Butcher joked afterwards that he recently asked his players to compare themselves to creatures in nature – “I’m a wasp,” said McKay, “as I buzz about and I’m a pest.” And yesterday “he had a sting in the tail,” said Butcher.

United manager Jackie McNamara has said that he wants to make

Tannadice a fortress, but “sloppy play”, as he put it, undermined that ambition. He added: “You could see the fans’ frustration. We need to be brave on the ball and take responsibility.”

Inverness started the brighter and, after 12 minutes, McKay created an excellent chance for Graeme Shinnie down the left wing, the foraging full-back cracking in a low shot which Radoslaw Cierzniak did well to parry.

McKay turned goalscorer after 20 minutes, when there was yet another piece of evidence that a sclaff can render a defensive unit useless, just as much as a raking pass. Richie Foran’s mis-hit attempt left the United defenders static and McKay nipped in to casually slot the ball up and past Cierzniak for a slightly bizarre opener.

“If you are not confident you would snatch at it but I’m confident at the moment and I felt calm,” said Buzz McKay afterwards.

United were stung by the concession of the goal, though at first they seemed intent on playing the ball aerially. When they did get the ball down and started passing it, the home side were much the better for it, and John Rankin should have capitalised on a good move after 27 minutes rather than balloon his shot high and wide. On the half hour mark, Gary Warren came forward to head just over the bar with Cierzniak stranded, before the Inverness centre-back and two others found their names in the referee’s book.

There had been some meaty tackles, most of them by the visitors, before Foran left his boot high on the knee of Gary Mackay-Steven. “We’ll see that one again,” said McNamara, left, indicating that a red card might have been shown. Keith Watson charged forward to make his views known on the foul, and he and Warren exchanged some handbags, giving referee Steven McLean no option but to book both of them and Foran.

Ross Draper then set up McKay for a shot from distance but his effort went well wide. After 41 minutes, United had their best move of the match to that point, David Goodwillie’s low centre finding Stuart Armstrong in space. Inverness keeper Dean Brill got down well to save the shot. Early in the

second half, the game was perhaps in a lull, so much so that a young herring gull strode about the pitch for some minutes, Gary Warren becoming the pantomime villain when he hit it with the ball.

The bird was in no danger of being troubled by United players, however, as they were largely anonymous in a third quarter completely dominated by Caley Thistle, whose workrate was phenomenal – “they give me everything,” said Butcher.

Doran’s sharp shot-cross to McKay saw the goalscorer’s header flash just past the post before Dillon’s last-gasp intervention cut out a cross that was about to be headed home by Doran. James Vincent should also have done better with the chance created for him by McKay.

With United having the cutting edge of a blancmange, McNamara changed his line-up to put on Brian Graham and Ryan Dow in place of Rankin and Chris Erskine. The changes seemed to rally United, and they came more into the game.

After 72 minutes, we had a candidate for miss of the season in only the second match. Mackay-Steven skinned David Raven and sent in a cross that took Brill and his defence out of the equation. Goodwillie only had to make some kind of sensible contact to put the ball in the open goal,

but seemed caught in two minds and his poor shot went wide of

the target.

At the other end, Shinnie missed a glorious chance to wrap up the points, that man McKay putting him through with only Cierzniak to beat, but he delivered a typical defender’s shot that went wide. Doran got a needless yellow card for timewasting seconds before he was replaced, and United substitute Nadir Ciftci’s sole contribution was to get booked.

Stuart Armstrong’s late effort was well held by Brill and, in truth, it would have been a travesty if

Inverness had not gone north with the three points.

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