THE post-match thoughts of John Hughes told their own story about what had gone before at the Caledonian Stadium yesterday. The Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager, unprompted, quickly broke off from talking about yesterday’s draw to assess the potential impact the confrontation would have on the Scottish Cup semi-final between the two teams. He then broke off from that topic to agonise over the awful fate that befell his goalkeeper.
Scorers: Inverness Caledonian Thistle - Ofere 5; Celtic - Griffiths 3
Dean Brill will be one of the few to have a strong recollection of an occasion that ended a run of five clean-sheet domestic wins for Premiership leaders Celtic and extended the sequence without a win for their opponents to seven games. How the English goalkeeper will wish, as was the case for so many others, the day was one to forget.
The teams exchanged goals within 109 seconds in the early minutes when, with only a quarter of an hour played, the match had to be stopped for five minutes for Brill to receive medical attention after a collision with the blameless Gary Mackay-Steven. It caused the 29-year-old to dislocate his knee for the second time this year - yesterday was his first game back since he had to be carried from the field during the mid-January win over Hamilton.
Hughes confirmed that Brill will miss the rest of the season, at least, and the ’keeper’s efforts to regain his place in time for his club’s huge Hampden date counted for nothing. “It’s a real dampener for us. I’ve seen how hard he’s been working in his rehab,” said Hughes.
“The doc has put it back in, but that’ll be him until the end of the season and that’s really unfortunate. When it comes to a dislocated knee, I worked with Graham Barrett at Falkirk and his never got realigned properly and eventually finished him, so we have to make sure he’s in good hands. He’s a grafter though and he’ll want to be back. He was working so hard in training this week, so I feel for him.”
Hughes could content himself both with his team’s graft, and their refusal to buckle when Leigh Griffiths put the visitors ahead after only three minutes. One of the few moments that could be set apart from humdrum proceedings, the striker was lethal with a low angled drive after a clever diagonal ball into the wind from Scott Brown allowed him to go one-on-one with Gary Warren at the edge of the box. Griffths’s clinical effort may have skiffed off the leg of the Inverness defender on its way to nestling in the far corner, but that did not take away from the effort.
The Inverness response may have been untidier, but that was of no concern to a home team who thereafter largely contained a below-par Celtic. Their equaliser owed much to the visitors’ defence allowing themselves to get in a fankle after Ryan Christie had contacted with a cross swept in by David Raven and forced Jason Deyaner to block on the goal-line. The respite proved brief for Ronny Deila’s side with Edward Ofere on hand to turn in the rebound.
There was much huffing and puffing from Celtic as a gale blew around the exposed stadium. In the end – after a controversial moment on the hour when Scott Brown was yellow-carded for simulation in the penalty box by referee Craig Thomson – neither side seemed too perturbed about not showing their hand nor suffering any psychological damage ahead of the semi-final. With Celtic’s lead over Aberdeen at the top of the Premiership nudging up to eight points, there was no feeling the result could alter the course of the title, never mind the destination of the Scottish Cup. Hughes certainly was in little doubt about the latter.
“We were disappointed to lose a goal so early, even if it was a great strike from Griffiths,” the Inverness manager said. “We showed spirit to come back and score early though, and that settled us. We were a match for Celtic in the first half, but the second half they were the better team and we sat too deep and camped in. We couldn’t keep the ball.
“The shape and organisation was there but on another day and a slicker pitch, you can’t sit that deep. Will it have a bearing on next week? I very much doubt it. I don’t think that’ll be the team next week. I was working on another way to try and play against Celtic and we’ve earned the right to have a right good go at them in a semi-final. If they’re off it and we’re at it, there could be an upset. We have nothing to lose, all the pressure’s on them, they’re going for the treble so we’ll go and give it a right go.”
ICT: Brill (Esson 20); Warren, Meekings, Shinnie; Watkins, Raven, Tansey, Draper, Williams (Vincent 85); Christie (Doran 85), Ofere. Subs not used: Ross, Devin Tremarco, Kink.
Celtic: Gordon; Ambrose (Matthew 62), Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Armstrong, Johansen, Mackay-Steven (Commons 62), Johansen; Griffiths (Guidetti 78). Subs not used: Zaluska, Matthews, Stokes, McGregor, Tierney.
Referee: C Thomson. Attendance: 6,059.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS