ONE-SIXTH of the SPL Highland? For all the deeply-embedded enmity between two teams situated 14 miles apart on the Moray Firth shores, there will be a certain satisfaction in that prospect for both sets of northerly supporters.
It is 18 years since the merged Inverness Caley Thistle and unexpectedly-successful applicants Ross County kicked off their Scottish League careers as foes in the Third Division.
A 2-1 victory in Dingwall created a 15-point advantage, with eight games left, for Ross County over rivals Dundee and Falkirk. It was County’s 26th match unbeaten. The quality of football this season from Derek Adams’ side at times has been a joy to behold, though not for some.
Steven Pressley, the Falkirk manager, seemed to echo Hamilton boss Billy Reid’s controversial appraisal of County as a long-ball team as the First Division champions-elect took a massive stride towards the title.
The youthful Bairns finished with nine men and hardly troubled home keeper Michael Fraser in the entire 90 minutes as their own title challenge was all but buried. Pressley, who decided to bite his tongue over goalkeeper Michael McGovern’s pivotal 15th-minute red card, was barbed in his praise of his own side.
“[I’m disappointed] with the result, yes, but in terms of a lot of the aspects that we work towards, no,” Pressley said. “The encouraging thing for me is I looked at both sides there and I saw a side with real organisation, real good ball retention, understanding of their jobs.
“And I saw a side that I think play percentage football. I think today, although the result was a significant one for Ross County, when I look at the future of both sides, there is only one side that excites me – and that’s ourselves.
“Ross County deserve to be up there. There is no criticism there. They win games of football and they are a strong side. But, if you are asking me about the potential and the way a team evolves, then I’m excited by my own side.”
After 15 minutes, mayhem of a match-changing variety erupted. Stephen Kingsley’s poor back-pass put keeper Michael McGovern in trouble and the ex-County shotstopper clipped Colin McMenamin as he raced through.
Wiillie Gibson was sacrificed for the Bairns’ youth keeper Graham Bowman, who was powerless to prevent skipper Brittain sweeping the penalty – his tenth goal of the season – into the left bottom corner of the net.
As Brittain goaded the Falkirk fans, a streaker tore out of the away end and made it all the way to the half-way line before being grounded by stewards.
Falkirk were just as shamefully exposed after 25 minutes as County stormed 2-0 up.
A Gary Miller cross from the right was only half-cleared by an away head before Quinn struck with a sweet 15-yard half-volley into the roof of the net.
The tone changed just after the hour for a Falkirk side previously bereft of threat. A Kettlewell foul on Murray Wallace had Mark Millar lining up 30 yards out and the ex-Celtic reserve’s strike swirled high into the net.
Falkirk fought admirably but, when Farid El Alagui felled Scott Morrison for his second booking, it was all over for the nine-man Bairns.
“It was a big win for us today,” home manager Adams conceded, before dismissing talk the title was over.
Of course it isn’t, but a County collapse seems as likely as a Christmas dinner invite between Pressley and Adams.