Only a matter of weeks ago, Richie Foran was questioning whether his players had the bottle for a relegation battle. Yesterday, with a performance he claimed was reminiscent of “the old Inverness”, he got his answer.
It was a game where Hearts enjoyed more possession and could have wrapped up all three points had Jamie Walker converted a 74th minute spot-kick but their Highland guests were in defiant mood. Owain Fon Williams dived the right way to save that penalty and he wasn’t the only one getting their body in the way on a day when Inverness made it 14 league games without a win but did enough to convince their manager that a victory may not be far away.
“That was the old fighting Inverness. All season we’ve looked good going forward and a goal threat but we were lazy going back up the park,” said Foran, pictured, who said there were several reasons for the turnaround in performance. “Players. Meetings. Sticking together. Keeping them positive. It’s down to the players. What a battling performance. We frustrated them at times which we wanted to do. We looked good on the counter. All in all it’s a fair result for me.”
Hearts manager Ian Cathro did not agree. He acknowledged that the visitors had frustrated his team, but he still insisted that they had created enough and shown enough to merit a victory to set them up in confident mood ahead of Wednesday’s Scottish Cup replay against Hibernian.
“I think the players have worked well. There was lots of effort and quality to dominate the game. We have created enough chances maybe to win a game and a half.
“Perhaps we can be more clinical in the chances we create. But we suffer from the fact that we failed to defend the set piece.”
Not clinical enough at one end and totally sloppy at the other, Hearts gave Inverness something to cling to when a Greg Tansey free-kick into the area picked out Carl Tremarco. The full back was one of the last players Hearts could afford to leave unattended and he showed why by powering his header past Jack Hamilton to take his tally to seven for the season and close in on the ten-goal mark that would necessitate his manager honouring a monetary bet.
With rejuvenated fighting spirit, the side who had been battered at Celtic last week began to chase everything. David Raven and Ross Draper epitomised that doggedness in the 21st minute. The former appeared from nowhere to clear a Isma Goncalves cross whipped in at the near post and when the corner was played in, it was Draper who got his body between the big Hearts forward and the goal, making a point-blank block as Goncalves turned and fired in a shot. It was a sign that Foran’s recent criticism had hit a nerve.
“The players take the blame for the past couple of months and the players will get us out of it,” said Draper. “This was the start of it. We needed a bit of criticism as a group. We’d made individual mistakes but as a group we weren’t doing the dirty work to get points. This was a great example of us doing that, a lot of last-ditch tackles. We are back and we deserved something from the game. That has to be the benchmark now.”
Hearts suffered as too much of their passing play was too pedestrian or too predictable and, with the pitch another issue to contend with, they were applying pressure but lacking the killer finish.
Inverness were also adept at eating up the minutes, taking an age for throw-ins, set pieces and goal kicks, winding up Hearts in the process.
The home team did get the breakthrough in the 64th minute. Having tried to minimise the impact of the flaky surface and get more crosses into the danger area, they earned their reward. Passing the ball across the pitch, it was eventually played back into the box by captain Perry Kitchen, given his start after a few games on the bench. Back from his African Nations success, Arnaud Djoum was the recipient at the back post and he stabbed it past the Inverness keeper to level the score.
Walker made his 150th appearance, coming on as a second- half substitute, and the man who was appointed designated penalty taker back in September after netting three out of three missed his second of the season and Hearts’ fourth spot kick from 12. “We’re disappointed to have dropped two points,” said the winger. “But we can’t dwell on it because we have a big game on Wednesday.
“Sometimes you miss a penalty – most players have missed one in their career – but I’ll happily step up and take the next one.”