SO shoddy were Hibernian, this performance could have belonged to any of their darkest days across the past three years. Sometimes it seems there have been more such days than in a century of Icelandic winters.
As the visitors “played poorly from start in finish” in the words of their manager Pat Fenlon, you had to keep asking if this really was a team chasing a win to stay second, and only one point behind leaders Celtic.
It must be stated that Inverness are the form team in the country and added the scalp of the Leith club to those of Aberdeen and Celtic, claimed away from home, in their previous two league encounters. That is a remarkable run but it was the moments leading up to the second goal, which didn’t arrive until 14 minutes from the end of a hitherto bland second half, that encapsulated the difference between the two sides.
Aaron Doran showed the sort of drive, determination and directness that eluded David Wotherspoon and Ivan Sproule to power down the right and whip over the sort of cross defences hate. Especially, such a Dracula-like backline as Hibs, who three times were breached following balls launched into the box from wide areas. Richie Foran put his body on the line to meet Doran’s cross, threw himself into danger, and got clattered in the process as he scooped the ball almost from behind him to get the touch. Butcher admitted his side lacked fluency in their latest great “adventure” but that they were “effective and strong”. A phrase about as far removed as possible from how you would describe the Leith club’s efforts.
Hibs player Alan Maybury didn’t skirt around the unacceptable nature of what his team produced, despairing at an inability to perform on long away trips and insisting that “a system, a way, a desire” had to be found to turn the problem around.
Desire should be a given for the Easter Road side. It courses through Inverness, their men making the headers to make the difference. The first came in 13 minutes, when Graeme Shinnie swung in a free kick from the left that Ross Draper directed downwards at the far post for a “rare” headed goal, he admitted. By the time, three minutes from the end of the 90, that Billy McKay nodded in his fifth goal in four games, Hibs had entirely given up the ghost.
Fenlon bemoaned that his team failed to do the little things properly, as they had in beating Hearts the previous weekend.
Any Hibs follower who thought their club had taken a mighty step forward with a first derby victory in three-and-a-half years should be very afraid that the nature of this Highland hiding puts them two steps – and two league places – back.
Inverness, meanwhile, continue to come on in leaps and bounds. Where their current rich vein takes them, Butcher isn’t willing to contemplate. “I’m just enjoying the ride,” he said. It is a heck of a one, best illustrated when it was put to the Highland club’s manager than his team could now boast a record of only two defeats in 15 games. “It is three in 21,” he shot back. If Inverness prevail in tomorrow night’s Highland derby replay in the Scottish Cup, they will have both knockout competitions to look forward to in the new year – with a Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final awaiting them – as well as a genuine tilt for second place in the SPL.
Things couldn’t be going better for them, except in one notable respect. Only 3,423 were inside the Caledonian Stadium to witness the club scale previously unimaginable heights. The crowd figure would have been much the same if Inverness were scrabbling around mid-table. Success appears no driver when it comes to attracting more fans through the gate.
Asked about the inability of Inverness’s good-as-it-gets period to capture the public imagination, Foran did not sidestep the issue. “We can’t do much more on the park,” he said. “Everyone works hard behind the scenes. I’ve never known a club to do as many public appearances as we do every week, trying to get that support in. And still we’re struggling. Yes, I’d appeal for the city of Inverness to get behind us. We need more support and, hopefully, it can come. We have to keep doing our business on the park but, yes, I am disappointed by the number of supporters who turn out for us.”