ALL the peace, love and harmony stuff was fooling nobody. Terry Butcher and Derek Adams took 31 minutes to shatter the illusion. The pre-match talk had been of the deep bonds of friendship and empathy underpinning this fierce north rivalry.
Referee: Steven McLean
Bookings: Ross Co (Vigurs); Inverness CT (Raven, Shinnie)
Chairmen sharing cars as they headed off in unison to rattle the cages at SPL meetings, managers, fans and players sharing coffee and lunch.
There would have been something wrong if any of it had filtered through meaningfully to temper the rousing passions on match-day. Whatever the truth, it was bayonets at the ready as the two warring clans squared up come three o’clock.
Butcher and Adams, you could say, are cut from the same cloth in terms of fervour and that passion flared in verbal volleys and jabbed fingers after 31 minutes. After the referee Steve McLean’s intervention, a tough, uncompromising game held just as much heat and steam.
The best chance fell to County in the second period with Mihael Kovacevic’s rasping attempt flying just wide of the angle of post and bar.
But Caley Thistle claimed to have been denied cruelly by a refereeing decision that deemed Graeme Shinnie to have dived, rather than be felled by County’s Evangelos Ikonomou.
“He’s taken a touch, I’ve read it, and he doesn’t know where I am,” Shinnie, the Scotland under 21 cap, said. “He’s caught my foot so… I’m disappointed that the referee’s booked me. People are telling me that’s me suspended now. But it was a typical derby and we’ll take a point.”
There were occasional outbreaks of craft and decent football, too, but the commitment was searing and the spoils thinly-shared in the end.
The tantalising prospect of European action next season is very real now for two teams less than 20 years in the big time.
History, though, had always tended to favour the city club in the fixture. Before yesterday’s drama, Caley Thistle had won exactly half – 19 – of the 38 derbies since Scottish League admission came in 1994.
Home skipper Richie Foran was always likely to start unless a leg was missing and, sure enough, the Dubliner was back after five games out with a knee injury.
County had to draft another ex-Caley Thistle goalkeeper Michael Fraser for Mark Brown, who suffered a fractured hand pre-match.
A mighty Kovacevic burst of pace on the right offered County’s first threat after five minutes. Just as the cross beckoned, though, the County full-back over-ran it.
Two minutes later, Ikonomou’s casual back-heel flick inside broke to Owain Tudur Jones. The Welshman teed up Foran for a cross scythed in low but Billy McKay, sliding in, narrowly missed connection.
From a swirling Graeme Shinnie corner from the right, Ross Draper’s angled strike from the far side of the box was hacked off the line by Rocco Quinn with Fraser beaten.
Controversy sparked when David Raven reacted in fury to a hard tackle from Iain Vigurs. Tempers also flared in the technical areas with some finger-jabbing exchanged between Adams and Butcher.
There was nothing but heat between the sides as half-time arrived and so it continued.
There was better from County, though after 54 minutes. Paul Lawson played a terrific ball wide right and Kovacevic flicked it over Graeme Shinnie’s head.
Without a second thought, the big Swiss-Croat unleashed a searing strike that soared only just wide of the angle of the far-side post and the bar.
County maintained the pressure for a decent spell without managing to find a route through the Inverness men snapping hard at their heels.
With 11 minutes left, Graeme Shinnie was booked for allegedly diving under Ikonomou’s attentions in the County box.
The red-blooded commitment raged on through to full-time but the scoreline remained the same.
Adams, the County manager, now believes his team are two wins from sealing top six status.
“It was a good game from the point of view it was well-fought,” he said.
“Both sides will probably be happy with a point, but Inverness more than us because they are away from home.
“We are ten games unbeaten with seven wins in those matches. We’ve taken ourselves to 42 points and opened up a gap.
“We just need to keep on going and keep on fighting.
“There are no thoughts of Europe. We’ll try to think of the top six now because we’ve put ourselves in that position and then take it from there.
“We’re probably two wins away from [guaranteeing a place in] the top six but that depends because a lot of teams have hard games to play.
“Let’s see what we can do. It would be an unbelievable achievement to get there in our first SPL season.
“And if we were able to get another derby back here, that would be terrific.”