INVERNESS made sure there were no slip-ups on a greasy Dens Park surface on Tuesday night and imposed their authority over their opponents from the Championship to record a deserved victory.
Scorers: Inverness - McKay (11)
While it was not always straightforward, Billy McKay’s early goal for Inverness clinched a place in the last eight. Terry Butcher’s side also hit the woodwork on two occasions.
However, the fact that visiting goalkeeper Dean Brill was the outstanding candidate for man of the match underlines that Dundee ensured it was a testing 90 minutes for the Premiership leaders. He made at least three excellent stops, including one in the 90th minute to deny Ryan Conroy’s attempt to take the tie to extra time.
While the hosts might not be deserving of the description “crisis club” quite yet, a sense of foreboding hung above Dens Park before kick-off that was nearly as thick as the north-east haar that enveloped the old ground.
One win inside 90 minutes in the home side’s last seven games tells its own story and goals have also become an issue. Dundee have now scored just twice in their last five matches and one was an own goal.
It was also possible to detect some melancholy in the air. This emanated from those Dundee fans who had noted that, on the same date ten years ago, they were watching their side take on Perugia, then flying high in Serie A. Dens Park was packed to the rafters for the first leg of that Uefa Cup tie.
The same could not be said of the stadium last night. Trepidation perhaps kept many Dundee fans away and they might well have felt vindicated in their choice as Inverness took an early hold on the proceedings. Butcher’s impressive team might not be Serie A quality, but they top the only league they can – the Scottish Premiership.
For much of last night’s encounter, they lived up to their reputation as one of Scotland’s form sides and looked ready to ensure Saturday’s defeat by Aberdeen remained a blip on their progress report so far this season.
Although Dundee grafted well enough, they looked a very limited side compared to the slicker and fitter visitors, who were watched by the Ross County management team of Derek Adams and Barry Smith ahead of next month’s Highland derby. Smith was making a rare visit back to Dens since his controversial sacking as manager in February.
Craig Beattie returned to the Dundee starting line-up. Booked for a poor foul after 17 minutes, he looked exactly what he is – a striker desperately trying to find match fitness. He worked hard, however, and remained Dundee’s most dangerous player until being replaced just after the hour mark by Steven Doris.
Even by this early stage, the worst fears of the Dundee supporters looked like they were on the way to being realised. Things began to unstitch during the warm-up when Matt Lockwood sustained an injury that meant he had to pull out of the starting XI. Willie Dyer took his place at left-back instead.
A kind interpretation for their loss of an early goal is that Dundee were unsettled by the forced alteration. McKay needed only ten minutes to fire Invernes in front after the striker opportunistically turned in a mishit shot by Richie Foran. It was the sign of a striker acting on instinct as he pounced while standing on the edge of the six-yard box. It was a poor goal for Dundee to concede, however.
It might have been worse after 20 minutes when Gary Irvine managed to get on the wrong side of Aaron Doran, who powered into the box and slipped in an angled shot that rebounded off the far post. There were some signs that Dundee were not prepared to be meekly eliminated from the competition, and Beattie saw a shot deflected just over the bar.
The former Celtic and Hearts striker came closer still to an equaliser on the stroke of half-time. A flowing move that had begun in Dundee’s own box brought the ball to Beattie’s feet just inside the visitors’ box at the other end of the park. He took a touch and then hit a powerful shot towards goal.
However, Dean Brill made one of the saves of the season after diving to his left and beating the ball back out again. Referee Stephen Finnie blew for half-time seconds afterwards.
Inverness struck the woodwork again just minutes after the re-start when McKay nonchalantly flicked Foran’s cross against the junction of post and bar. Shortly afterwards Brill again frustrated Dundee when keeping out Peter MacDonald’s well-struck effort. Dundee pushed their visitors hard to the end but, as with ten years ago, they fell to narrow defeat.