IT CAN seem a long way from the Welsh valleys to the Highland glens but, in these days of satellite television and obsessive social media exchanges, word travels with ease.
Once, a new start in football in the northerly environs of Inverness might have been the death knell of youthful ambitions to represent a home country. Yesterday, Marley Watkins was doing his chances of entering Chris Coleman’s squad proper no harm at all.
The Caley Thistle attacker was placed on stand-by for Wales in the last international window, gaining the thrill of seeing his name up there alongside Gareth Bale in the squad announcement.
Against Dundee United, the ex-Swansea City youth – latterly with non-league Hereford – continued a seam of outstanding form – netting the winner – that has characterised his second season in the north.
“Coming here has given me a great platform to progress,” Watkins said. “It was a thrill to get the call to be stand-by for Wales and sometimes people don’t realise how close you are to the next level. I’ll just keep working hard, keep focusing. Who knows where you can end up?
“It was a thrill to get the letter from the Wales FA. It was cool – you see all the players on the list, your name on stand-by after Gareth Bale.
“It’s awesome. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that, but I don’t want to settle for that. I just want to work my way in.”
Inverness’s victory was thoroughly deserved despite the narrow margin, with United a poor shadow of their recent selves and succumbing to only their third defeat of the season.
Watkins justified the hype surrounding him with a strong, marauding all-round show, although there were no real failures in the Inverness camp. United, for their part, will be studying the video tape to see just what was lacking.
The Tannadice team had to adjust to the absence of Paul Paton, with the midfielder and defender Mark Wilson left out while under club investigation.
Ryan Dow stepped into the central area in the only change from the previous week’s victory over Partick. The enforced switch certainly didn’t seem to hamper the Tannadice team in the opening exchanges. For the opening six minutes at least, the confident Terrors looked to have the beating of John Hughes’ side.
After only a couple of minutes, Chris Erskine knocked an effort just over the bar, while Jaroslaw Fojut’s free header flew over Dean Brill’s bar soon after. Erskine also struck the home post before Hughes’ defence got a grip on matters.
The hosts – missing the creative talents of suspended Ryan Christie – soon reversed perceptions.
After eight minutes, a fine Greg Tansey pass cut a hole in United defences. Graeme Shinnie hit the bye-line and fired in a low cross, but Sean Dillon was sharp to nip in front of the prowling Billy Mckay and clear.
But the hosts were in front three minutes later with Greg Tansey’s excellent low cross from the right finding Watkins sliding in between United defenders to apply the close-range finish.
It should have been two after 29 minutes as Josh Meekings rose unchallenged to meet another Tansey delivery with his head only to strike the foot of the post.
Both sides missed with free headers before the break – Caley Thistle’s Ross Draper and United’s Callum Morris missing the mark.
With play stretching and gaps opening in the second half, you might have expected a few clammy moments for Inverness, but they never really came.
Nadir Ciftci did rise to meet substitute Conor Townsend’s curling cross from the left but smacked his header high over.
The Turkish striker wove through again soon after but saw Brill comfortably hold his shot.
United manager Jackie McNamara was scathing. “A lot of fear came into our passing,” he reflected. “In the second half it was more about acceptance than doing something about it and being brave on the ball.
“I said to them afterwards the fear in our play at times was worrying. Maybe it’s the expectations and demands of being up the top end of the table, but they’ve got to handle it.”