HE HAILS from Corby and plays for Northern Ireland yet Billy McKay has the kind of name that might mark him out as a true Highlander. Whatever his roots, the 24 year-old stamped his signature all over this fiery Highland derby.
Inverness CT - McKay (9 pen, 54)
Ross County - Vigurs (41)
The so-called El Kessocko was no El Clasico, but there was plenty of class in the finishing.
McKay lit his name up in the spotlight. His sixth and seventh goals from the last five games were enough to sink spirited County who produced a cracker of their own through Iain Vigurs’ leveller.
Victorious Caley Thistle continue their assault on three domestic fronts and now face Kilmarnock away in fifth round.
Despite the close-fought nature of the thrilling draw in Dingwall, Caley seemed to hold the aces coming into last night’s replay, with a recent record of just one defeat in the last 15 matches - and a miserly three losses all season.
As top SPL scorers, not even champions Celtic could match Terry Butcher’s men for sheer goalscoring prowess. They hadn’t failed to net in any of 21 previous outings, with a stunning average of two goals a game in the league. Regardless of last night’s events, they had a League Cup semi-final to relish.
County, in contrast, had lost their air of solidity since a rousing start to their debut top flight season. There was no sense of crisis at Victoria Park but the First Division champions were anchored 11 points behind their neighbours with only one victory in their last eight games before last night.
On a freezing night, there was a sheen of sparkling white across the surface despite undersoil heating. The replay clash had much to live up to. Caley Thistle’s 3-1 SPL victory here in early October had wowed ESPN viewers and a 6000-plus crowd.
And what the first cup meeting on BBC ten days ago had lacked in quality, it made up for in drama. Richard Brittain had fired what looked like a stoppage time winner before Richie Foran’s unlikeliest of levellers.
There were two milestones reached in the home camp with Richie Foran making his 150th club appearance and fellow Dubliner Aaron Doran reaching his 50th.
The home side were unchanged from Saturday’s 3-0 hammering of Hibs, while County made only one switch from the team that lost narrowly at Motherwell. Midfield enforcer Stuart Kettlewell returned in place of Gary Glen.
Craig Thomson, the referee who outraged the County camp with alleged offside goals in the 3-3 Dingwall draw, was again the man in the middle. Thomson had also infuriated the Staggies’ support as far back as Celtic’s early season visit to Victoria Park for adding extra stoppage time.
He hardly endeared himself further to County as drama flared after only eight minutes. Doran lifted a free kick into a crowded County penalty area and Gary Warren crashed to earth under a challenge by County’s Ross Tokely.
Referee Thomson pointed to the spot and Billy McKay sent goalkeeper Mark brown the wrong way for his 12th goal of the campaign.
It soon became clear that the underfoot conditions were making fluent football tricky. As scrappiness descended, it took until the 35th minute for Doran to muster an attempt, with his long-range dig skidding well wide.
Soon after, Andrew Shinnie’s through ball proved just too pacy for Doran as Brown came out to smother.
Doran, as he was at the weekend, was again a-buzz with energy. It took a blatant Marc Fitzpatrick body-check to stop him in his tracks after a cheeky dummy on the break.
County, second best for long enough, are nothing if not spirited, though. Four minutes from the break their hard work in battling their way back into the match paid off. A long ball hoisted forward found McMenamin weighing a header into the path of Iain Vigurs.
The County midfielder’s response was sublime. From 25 yards, the 24-year-old sent a beautifully-placed first-time strike soaring over the outcoming Antonio Reguero and into the roof of the net.
Ross Draper saw another attempt deflected wide for Caley Thistle before the half-time whistle blew.
The Inverness lead was restored with another spectacular finish by McKay after 54 minutes. Andrew Shinnie shaped to shoot on the edge of the County penalty area, but was thwarted by Munro’s outstretched leg.
The ball broke to McKay and the response was instant and lethal as he curved home number 13 for the season from 20 yards.
County had an excellent chance to level after 68 minutes.
A concerted Staggies assault began with Vigurs rising superbly to meet a Quinn cross from the right. The header was strong but Reguero was the measure of it.
Soon after, heavy pressure saw two more close calls for Caley Thistle. A Quinn strike was deflected over for a corner before David Raven’s desperate block denied Munro’s header on the line.
Inverness CT: Reguero; Raven, Warren, Meekings, G Shinnie; Draper, Tudur Jones; Doran, A Shinnie (Sutherland 75), Foran; McKay (Roberts 88). Subs not used: Esson, Polworth, Cooper.
Ross County: Brown; Kovacevic, Tokely (Munro 46), Boyd, Fitzpatrick; Brittain, Fotheringham (Cooper 65), Kettlewell, Quinn (Ross 78); Vigurs; McMenamin. Subs not used: Fraser, Glen.