TERRY Butcher was genuine – or as genuine as a Rangers legend can be – in wishing Celtic the very best of luck in adventures in Kazakhstan on Tuesday afternoon, with one or two small caveats.
Along with a salutary victory for Scotland’s battered co-efficient against Shakhter Karagandy, Butcher mischievously evoked hopes of one or two morale-sapping mishaps for Neil Lennon’s side during their arduous travels.
It was tongue-in-cheek from the Englishman, of course, and the question that might be asked is just whether his team require much in the way of outside assistance these days, even at the champions’ home.
After three games, three wins and three clean sheets, the Highlanders are cresting a wave at the top of the new Premiership. Celtic, given their all-consuming Champions League ambitions, had better beware when they host Butcher’s men on Saturday.
“We certainly wish them luck,” Butcher stressed. “I don’t normally wish Celtic luck, but I certainly do this week because of the co-efficient and the fact they’re representing Scotland. I hope they win and it is the hardest game in the world, with planes delayed and all that kind of thing. We’ll travel down for a game on the day and it is one the lads have had marked in their diaries all summer. It will be a great occasion and we want to make it one.”
Butcher’s happy state of mind had clouded somewhat in a more troubled second half, but Motherwell’s revival, after being thoroughly outplayed in the first half, was never entirely convincing.
The solidity, resolve and cohesive understanding of this gradually evolving Inverness side was again there for all to see. “They caused us problems in the second half but we saw another side of the players today – a lot of grit, resilience and steel,” Butcher said. “My new motto for the club is stamina, steel and style. I do have the Latin for it but can’t remember it off the top of my head. After a few glasses of red, perhaps I will.”
The effects of heavy pilfering of Stuart McCall’s ranks are evident, but, aside from the Fir Park outfit’s shortcomings, Caley Thistle’s first-half performance was impressive.
After only four minutes, Graeme Shinnie’s free kick from deep left found Richie Foran diving across his marker to steer a ten-yard header into the corner of the net.
Motherwell were being filleted at times by sharp, patient, intelligent movement, although on-loan Luton keeper Dean Brill had to make a diving block on Keith Lasley’s strike inside the box.
It took a strong Shaun Hutchinson saving tackle to shut down on Billy McKay after 26 minutes, but the second blow was inflicted ten minutes later. Again, it was patience personified in the making. Aaron Doran sliced Motherwell open with a long through-pass to David Raven on the right. The full-back’s instant ball back into the danger area was snapped up hungrily by the ever-ready McKay and tucked past Lee Hollis without a second thought.
Motherwell’s forays were lame by comparison and the damage might easily have been doubled before the break, with James Vincent one who brushed the top of the bar.
A double half-time substitution hinted at Stuart McCall’s unhappiness, with Henri Anier’s introduction adding muscle along with
Stuart Carswell. There was instantly more bite about the visitors and it wasn’t just the fierce breeze at their backs. Shaun Hutchinson, though, missed arguably the visitors’ best chance of the day with a clear header over the bar, and a 50-50 penalty shout after David Raven appeared to catch Iain Vigurs was waved away.
“In the first half, our tempo wasn’t good enough. We’ve certainly a lot of work to do,” McCall admitted.
“The second half was obviously better but had to be. But we need players winning tackles in midfield and scoring goals. It was a really disappointing performance and result. We’ve got to show a lot more than we have done today.
“There were harsh words at half time, and at full time because it is no good starting playing in the 46th minute of the game.
“But we’ve had opportunities and not hit the target. We’ve not done well in an attacking sense and it was sloppy from us. We know where we must do a lot better.”
“We’re three games into the season and we need to knuckle down and put in better performances.”