AMID this relentless bombardment of fixtures and footballing exertion, much had been made of the Inverness Caledonian Thistle players’ natural preference for playing games over training.
The argument had been that the club’s glut of ten matches in five weeks was actually a positive phenomenon to be welcomed before and after that heroic, failed League Cup final effort.
What every suffering, diet-conscious health freak will tell you, though, is that what you prefer and what is actually good for you can be two very different things.
Until yesterday, it seemed the intimidating series of matches had sapped the goals and winning ways from a team still intent on European qualification. A number of unpalatable statistics were beginning to eat into the Highlanders’ otherwise impressive season, but all were banished by Billy McKay’s 62nd-minute header.
The eventual matchwinner ended a run five games without victory and 554 minutes without a goal for John Hughes’ side.
It also broke McKay’s own, unlikely mini-drought of five games without a finish in an otherwise immensely productive season that has now reaped 21 goals.
“It’s good for Billy to get back on the scoresheet after the final and missing a penalty,” Russell Latapy, the Caley Thistle assistant manager, reflected afterwards.
“It is always difficult – having missed a few in my time, I know better than most how that feels. Billy’s job is to stick the ball in the net and if he is doing well then it usually means the team is succeeding too. But to be honest we just wanted anybody to score the longer this has gone on without a goal!
“After the week we’ve had that was what we needed.”
Latapy’s demeanour held obvious relief, but this was a game that could have gone awry for Hughes’ men in the first half. Dean Brill, the home goalkeeper, performed brilliantly before the break, with three telling saves against a fluid, sparky and inventive Partick.
Six corners to Caley Thistle’s one underlined Partick’s first-half threat, although Caley Thistle had their moments. With six minutes on the clock, Danny Williams’ ball across from the left was dummied by James Vincent and McKay.
It rolled into the path of Ross Draper just outside the box but the big midfielder failed to catch his strike properly. Lyle Taylor, always sharp and tough to pin down for Partick, drew the first of three very good first half saves by Dean Brill after 12 minutes.
Despite a blustery wind and bumpy, sanded surface, it was open, entertaining stuff – with the Maryhill Jags particularly impressive.
Brill had be strong again after 28 minutes as Taylor again weaved into space and hammered in a vicious attempt which the keeper pushed away for a corner. Five minutes later, Taylor’s ingenuity again troubled the hosts and the on-loan Sheffield United man saw another fierce strike parried by Brill.
But as the second half opened, Caley Thistle took a strong grip on the game, pegging Partick back into their own half. McKay’s flick after 54 minutes sent Greg Tansey through for a brilliant scoring chance but the midfielder’s touch over the keeper’s head nestled on the roof of the net.
The screw was turning for the hosts, but McKay was clutching his head in disbelief just before the hour. Again it was Tansey who wound into space, releasing the club top scorer to the left of the box. McKay skewed a hurried effort high and wide. Aaron Taylor-Sinclair had the ball in the net for the Glasgow outfit moments later only to be flagged off-side, but McKay’s opener after 62 minutes delighted the home crowd. This time the great Caley Thistle predator made no mistake as Draper headed Graeme Shinnie’s free-kick across goal and McKay angled a header past the flailing Paul Gallacher. The relief was palpable in the Inverness camp and suddenly there was real spring in their step and they never looked back.
Away manager Alan Archibald was left puzzled by what he saw as a missed opportunity.
“We didn’t turn up in the second half, which I found strange,” he said.