ANY bruised pride at being beaten in their own backyard on 1 January was banished by Inverness Caley Thistle as they thoroughly routed Ross County in the Global Energy Stadium.
Scorers: Inverness - Raven 8′ McKay 40′ Watkins 78′
It had been expected to be the closest of contests with the Dingwall hosts resurgent since that last derby triumph on their foes’ home turf. But the 19 points separating the teams by full-time seemed like a fair reflection of the gulf in respective performances on the night.
Goals by David Raven, Billy McKay and Marley Watkins seemed like a just return. County’s big players failed to perform to expected standards, while John Hughes’ team, to a man, looked ravenous for victory and revenge from the first whistle.
The 43rd Highland derby, then, ended a run of Dingwall disappointments for Inverness who climbed back to fourth in the table, jumping above Dundee United. County, who slipped back to tenth place on goal difference, hadn’t lost one of these contests at home to their great rivals for nearly a decade.
While Inverness have held overall sway since the inaugural derby, it must have irked Hughes’ men to have been beaten in the previous two.
Home manager Derek Adams sprang a minor surprise in recalling young Alex Cooper in place of Graham Carey in his only change from Saturday’s 2-1 win over St Mirren. Notably, though, Cooper had netted last time out in the Staggies’ New Year’s Day victory in Inverness.
Hughes, likewise, made a single change after victory at St Johnstone, with dangerman James Vincent preferred to wide man Watkins.
After early tit-for-tat, Caley Thistle took the lead with their first serious attack. From Vincent’s pass down the left, Aaron Doran’s explosive turn of pace left Brian McLean for dead. Doran cut the ball back low and Raven slid to challenge Evangelos Oikonomou a few yards out with just enough force to squeeze the ball inside the post.
It was right-back Raven’s first goal for the club in just over 60 appearances, prompting a comical “scores when he wants” chant from the visiting fans.
After 24 minutes, County had a penalty appeal waved away when Jordan Slew’s strike hit defender Gary Warren at close proximity. The visitors broke immediately, with Graeme Shinnie slicing past Richie Brittain from the left, then going for glory. Only the slenderest of fingertip saves down low by Mark Brown spared County.
Shinnie was impressing and it was his sharpness in nicking the ball from Slew 30 yards out that led to Caley Thistle’s second goal. The Inverness left-back instinctively knew where McKay would be and whipped it across for a sweet first-time finish from 12 yards by the club top scorer. It was McKay’s 20th of the season after three games without a goal.
There was hope for County early in the second half as Cooper’s ball dragged across the box was met on the volley by Michael Tidser. But Caley Thistle ’keeper Dean Brill produced a tremendous reflex save to push the powerful strike over his bar. The frantic pace continued with Slovak Filip Kiss sending another attempt spinning just wide of Brill’s goal. At the other end, McKay released Doran clean through the middle with a long, pin-point pass but full-back Cikos made a tremendous recovering tackle in the box.
County made substitutions, desperate to spark something better, with Graham Carey and Saturday’s match-winner Melvin De Leeuw introduced. But entering the final quarter of the match the Dingwall team were labouring in terms of creativity.
Slew earned a sniff at goal inside the Caley Thistle box but could only turn and strike into Brill’s arms. The away side thought they had won a penalty when Doran tumbled in the box in a challenge by Cikos, but referee Calum Murray gave a goal kick.
But it was all over bar the shouting after 77 minutes. Again, it was the excellent Doran who created the opening with a skilful, perfect flick into the path of substitute Watkins.
He strode into the right side of the box and calmly powered a shot home into the far corner of the net.
Ross County: Brown; Cikos, Songo’o, McLean, Oikonomou (Carey 54); Brittain (De Leeuw 66), Kiss, Tidser, Cooper; Slew, Arquin. Subs: McCarthy, Gordon, Boyd, Quinn, Glen.
Inverness CT: Brill; Raven, Warren, Meekings, Shinnie; Vincent, Draper, Tansey, Doran (Tremarco 85); Foran (Ross 87), McKay 7 (Watkins 75). Subs: Esson, Devine, Polworth, Pepper.