SCOTT Vernon gave Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes a vital reminder of just what the striker is capable of with the goal that handed Caley Thistle a first defeat of the season.
Scorers: Aberdeen - Vernon (81)
The Englishman was the top scorer in each of his first two seasons at the club, but is effectively fourth choice at the moment behind Niall McGinn, Calvin Zola and Josh Magennis.
In fact it was almost in desperation to turn dominance into three points that Vernon was thrown on and within four minutes he had claimed the winner, his first since scoring in a defeat at Celtic Park last March when Craig Brown was still
The goal was reward for the way Aberdeen approached the game against a side that still tops the league on goal difference, although they have played a match more than the reigning champions.
It also emphasised the depth of squad McInnes has assembled in an attempt to return the club to a position of respectability even if he assiduously avoids all talks of finishing runners-up next May.
McGinn and Barry Robson failed fitness tests, and, with captain Russell Anderson and Willo Flood also still sidelined, it was a test of the depth of squad the manager has at his disposal as well the value of the Aberdeen youth set-up.
No fewer than nine of the players stripped for the game have been products of that academy, including the midfield trio of Ryan Jack, Cammy Smith and Peter Pawlett.
McInnes was so enamoured of Jack’s performance in midweek that the normally reticent manager was effusive in his praise and the Scotland under-21 international continued in the same vein here.
Jack may have been outshone, with Flood and Robson for company early in the season, but his brilliance in subduing the form team of the division was evident throughout.
His pace, precision in possession of the ball and reading of the game when withoutit led to several important interventions both defensively and during Aberdeen’s long spells of dominance in the first half.
The width of Jonny Hayes down one side and former Rangers youngster Gregg Wylde on the other combined to stretch an already hard-pressed Inverness back line with the only surprise being the lack of goals to reflect the play.
Of course, by contrast to the resources available at Aberdeen, Terry Butcher has had to recruit from the likes of Kidderminster, Macclesfield and Ebbsfleet but trawling more obscure clubs does pay off. For example, it was Luton Town’s on-loan goalkeeper Dean Brill who was largely responsible for his side reaching the halfway mark on level terms, with wonderful saves to deny Cammy Smith’s shot from distance and Michael Proctor’s header.
In contrast, the visitors looked one-paced and surprisingly one-dimensional on the rare occasions they were able to break out of defence and as a result Jamie Langfield had a comfortable afternoon.
Their level of performance did improve after the interval and it took a goal-line clearance from Smith to deny Gary Warren an unlikely goal as the defender got his head to a rare Graeme Shinnie corner.
Vernon replaced Smith and in 80 minutes showed determination and ability to spin clear of David Raven to lash the ball home from deep inside the penalty area.
He will need the same sort of resilience to gain a regular place, something he is well aware of after making just a third fleeting appearance of the season.
Vernon said: “It has been frustrating but all I can do is take the chances I get and hope that the manager is impressed enough to keep me in the team.
“I did wonder for a while if my future might lie elsewhere but I want to play for Aberdeen and I am experienced enough to know anything can happen in football.”
How Butcher could do with that sort of experience to call on. He said: “When you see who Aberdeen had to come on then look at our bench then you know how different our resources are.
“To be honest, I don’t think there was too much between the teams today but they considered us a big scalp and that is how far we have come with this team.”
How they respond to this defeat will be crucial, starting with the trip to Dundee in the Scottish Communties League Cup on Tuesday.