Inverness moved off the bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership but were denied victory over Ross County by Alex Schalk’s late goal.
It was described as one of the most important Highland derbies of all time, added tension pervading the occasion given the perilous state the two rivals find themselves in with just four games remaining before the split. As a spectacle, it fell short of the lofty billing, but it was intriguing stuff all the same.
For much of the second half, Ross County flirted with a defeat which would have left them just three points off bottom spot. Alex Schalk’s late equaliser gave them a barely deserved point, although the Dutchman felt bitterly aggrieved not to have won a late first-half penalty.
Caley Thistle, while not able to claim the restorative balm of three valuable points, clambered off bottom spot at Hamilton Accies’ expense.
Never a classic, this match still pulsed with the importance of it all, the mood set by home manager Richie Foran’s pre-match call for a bit of added venom and bite. Greg Tansey’s opener looked set to give Inverness a second league win of 2017, before Schalk’s reply punctured the glee of the home crowd. Foran, though, remained buoyant.
“I tried to get more passion out of the players and I got that - more commitment, more pressing, more energy,” the Irishman said. “We’ve seen a lot of it over the last six or seven games. I’m a positive guy and it’s coming. We’ll go put three or four wins together - we’ve got the firepower.
“If we keep that never-say-die attitude and togetherness, keep working for each other, those wins will come.”
The Dingwall side suffered an early scare when, after only five minutes, Iain Vigurs’ dipping strike clipped the top of Aaron McCarey’s bar.
A tremendous bursting run and keen control from Carl Tremarco ignited the battle after 25 minutes, but the move ended with a Vigurs strike deflected for a corner.
County responded, nine minutes before the break, with their best move of the half. Liam Boyce strung the ball wide to Jason Naismith on the right. The ex-St Mirren wing back’s low, hard cross veered dangerously across the six-yard box and only just evaded the reach of Schalk.
Penalty claims from County ranks after 40 minutes came to nothing after David Raven clashed with Schalk in the home penalty box. Referee Crawford Allan was quick to wave the appeals away.
Just three minutes into the second half, the hosts were ahead. Christopher Routis was careless with a completely mis-hit clearance in his own penalty area. Billy Mackay linked with Liam Polworth and his lay-back drew a trademark thunderbolt strike from Tansey. The 20-yard effort deflected off defender Marcus Fraser to wrong-foot McCarey on its way into the
Tansey’s rasping strike from a tight angle was tipped over the bar by McCarey, while County passed up a glorious chance just before the hour.
Naismith’s cross from the right picked out Craig Curran completely free at the back post, but the Liverpudlian striker made the poorest of contacts with goal gaping.
It told a story that County’s first attempt on target came after 81 minutes as substitute Jim O’Brien drew a fine save from Owain Fon Williams.
But to the amazement of most in the ground, never-say-die County levelled with four minutes remaining.
A Kenny van der Weg throw-in from the left was flicked on by substitute Ryan Dow. Schalk, controlling neatly with back to goal, evaded a challenge and swivelled to strike the net brilliantly from eight yards.
“I think we deserved our point,” County manager Jim McIntyre said.