AS ENTHRALLING as scoreless draws come, this was a fiercely-contested stalemate – featuring two sides with big and bright ambitions for the season to come.
Inverness CT - 0
Dundee - 0
Referee: S Finnie
There were close calls at either end and unrelenting desire in both the Taysiders and the Highlanders as both remained unbeaten early in the campaign.
In the end, John Hughes’ men probably shaded it on the share of chances and attacking flow but couldn’t quite find a result fitting to mark the 20 years to the day since the Highlanders’ first Scottish League outing.
Back then, the merged, part-time club had trounced Arbroath 5-2, unaware of just how far the subsequent two decades would take them.
It was the first time since December 2012 the sides had clashed in Inverness, a day when Billy Mckay – now reportedly a target of Bundesliga 2 club FSV Frankfurt – netted a double to help the hosts to a 4-1 triumph.
While Caley Thistle have retained a strong core of players from that occasion, Dundee are a team transformed beyond recognition.
But one of their summer signings, skipper Kevin Thomson, lasted just seven minutes before hobbling off injured to be replaced by Jim McAlister.
Ross Draper roused the home support soon after with a tremendous strike from fully 40 yards that only just dipped on to the top of the net.
Much has been made of Hughes’ desire to get the ball down and play, but it was shaping up as an entertaining contest with Dundee, too, eager to play to feet and hit fast on the counter.
Ex-Cowdenbeath frontman Greg Stewart had a header saved by home goalkeeper Dean Brill, while Stewart was the creator after 27 minutes as his cross fed a much more venomous McAlister header which was clutched superbly down low.
Thomas Konrad was fortunate to escape with a booking after scything through young Ryan Christie just before the half-hour, before the hosts finished the half strongly.
The ever-lively Mckay wriggled into space across the front of the Dundee box after 36 minutes and fired hard and low. Kyle Letheren had the measure of it.
Caley Thistle pressure was building towards the break and a tremendous Mckay surge down the right had the home support on their feet.
Mckay managed to find young Christie in space outside the box but the teenager failed to get a shot away before running into trouble.
With a stalemate developing, Caley Thistle made an early second-half switch, bringing on Marley Watkins for James Vincent.
Perhaps the best move of the night so far came a minute before the hour, with the hosts unlucky not to break the deadlock.
A rapid-fire interchange in and around the box had Graeme Shinnie, Watkins and Williams linking up before James McPake just managed to nick the ball away from Mckay’s toes.
Dundee were increasingly on the defensive and Shinnie might have opened after 70 minutes. From Christie’s supply to the left of the box, the Scotland under-21 international drew an excellent block down low by Letheren.
On the rebound, Shinnie couldn’t control his shot and fired high over.
Those close calls almost came back to haunt the hosts after 75 minutes when Harkins’ corner found Peter MacDonald flashing a back-post volley inches over.
A Martin Boyle breakaway almost ended with a Harkins goal, only for Raven to rescue the situation with a terrific saving tackle.
Dundee fans howled for a penalty for handball against Greg Tansey late on, but referee Stephen Finnie – who had earlier given Caley Thistle a foul as Shinnie tore forward promisingly – waved it away.
Inverness CT: Brill, Raven, (Horner 81), Warren, Meekings, Shinnie; Draper, Tansey; Vincent (Watkins 50), Christie, Williams (Doran 68), Mckay. Subs not used: Esson, Ross, Tremarco, Polworth.
Dundee: Letheren, McGinn, McPake, Konrad, Dyer; Ferry, Thomson, (McAlister 8), McGowan, Harkins, Stewart (Boyle 61), Tankulic (MacDonald 59). Subs not used: Bain, Irvine, Davidson, Wighton.