It was a perfect day in Inverness, pristine blue skies and beaming sunshine the backdrop to a pervasive sense of dark doom among weary Caley Thistle followers trudging through the gates for the early kick-off.
On a day they might have been relegated, Richie Foran’s embattled team finally produced a performance and the kind of fighting spirit to match, that at least offers slender hope of securing a 13th season in Scotland’s top-flight.
Foran had demanded “warriors” and publicly told his players to “man up” during the week. The response he drew was stirring, particularly in a first half when Accies could, and should, have been swept away into the Moray Firth in a tide of goals.
Goals from Brad McKay and Greg Tansey from the spot in the first half proved just enough to slash the gap at the foot of the table to just four points with three games to play, although Accies’ screamed blue murder for a denied penalty long before grasping a late consolation.
Foran, hailing his players for only their fifth league win of the season, believes his team will now have sparked alarm among relegation rivals. “I’m delighted with the lads, proud of them. It was an aggressive performance. The players turned up,” the Irishman said. “Players who didn’t think they needed to head the ball or tackle, tackled and headed the ball today.
“We were aggressive from start to finish and created numerous chances. We dominated the game.
“Anyone watching us today will give us a bit more respect. It will be tougher for us. I’d be worried if I was other clubs around us.”
The hosts opened brightly, building towards a tenth-minute opener. Dubliner Jake Mulraney injected energy and zest from the off and was fouled in the build-up to the breakthrough goal.
Greg Tansey swirled in the
free-kick from deep left and former Hearts defender McKay, in a remarkable amount of space inside the six-yard box, was able to side-foot into the net at the back post.
It was all Inverness in that first half. Alex Fisher headed wildly over, while Billy Mckay twice tore into space only to fluff his chances uncharacteristically.
A shocking miss came next as Tansey’s powerful blast was parried by Remi Matthews and Fisher, first to the rebound, somehow skewed his header well wide of target. Within a couple of minutes, it was Hamilton’s turn for a howler, as Darian Mackinnon stabbed wide from bang on the six-yard line.
A penalty award after 35 minutes gave the hosts the cushion they deserved. As Tansey’s free-kick from deep left swirled towards the back-post, ex-Celtic midfielder Massimo Donati strung his arms around the shoulders of Ross Draper and wrestled him down. Referee Andrew Dallas immediately pointed to the spot and Tansey calmly swept the penalty past Matthews
Early in the second half, Accies were howling for a penalty of their own, and with some justification, when home keeper Ryan Esson slid through the back of substitute Ali Crawford in the box. To the away side’s great outrage, referee Dallas pointed only to the corner flag.
The flow was mostly in Inverness faces from there on in, but Accies remained toothless until they claimed that consolation goal. Just as Inverness seemed assured of a third clean sheet of the season, sub Danny Redmond, with the last kick of the game, stroked the ball home. It meant nothing in the bigger picture, though, and the sun hasn’t yet set on Caley Thistle’s top-flight days.
Accies manager Martin Canning will still furious about the denied penalty when he spoke to the press afterwards. “It was a stone-waller,” he said. “How they don’t see it is a joke. It was a game-changer because we were well on top at that stage.
“I usually defend the referees a lot, I’ve always done that, but there comes a point where you can’t keep defending them.”