“THE HIGHLANDS is ours” tends to be the war-cry from both rival factions in this fixture. No matter how good Ross County have been so far this season, only one half of the divide can currently sing it with sincerity.
Goals from Miles Storey, a sparkling performer on loan from Swindon Town, and trusty James Vincent, proved enough to claim a fourth successive win in Dingwall for the Scottish Cup holders.
Liam Boyce scored late on for a County side who were well snuffed out when it mattered.
The fleet-footed Storey’s influence was such that John Hughes, the Inverness manager, compared him to a young Anthony Stokes, his former Falkirk charge.
Hughes, who so far has the 21-year-old scorer until January only, said: “Miles is rapid-quick – and only going to get better. He is everything that a loan deal should be in that he comes here to play, stay injury-free and score goals – and long may that continue.
“I’m hoping to keep him beyond January. I had a young Anthony Stokes popping in goals at Falkirk and I think Miles has a wee bit of that about him.”
As for the hard-earned victory, Hughes added: “You try and predict how the game will go and it went exactly as we thought. They are pulling up trees at the moment so we knew we had to be solid. We wanted them to run out of steam after 20 minutes and then pick their pocket and that’s what we did.”
There was a suspicion the loss of Celtic-bound Ryan Christie to suspension would prove more costly to Caley Thistle than County’s loss of skipper Andrew Davies to a ban. In fact, the reverse seemed true.
It was a compelling enough spectacle, gritty and uncompromising, but you had to dig deep for stand-out moments. Approaching half-time, there was no hint of just how much the complexion of the game was about to shift. David Raven won the ball on the right and fed Liam Polworth to the right of the box. An excellent low ball to the far post left Storey with a simple finish on the six-yard line.
Matters deteriorated further for the Dingwall side with another defensive lapse on half-time.
Storey, again, was at the heart of the initial move, producing a great burst of pace to accelerate away from Scott Boyd into the box. Keeper Scott Fox blocked the striker’s low drive and defender Chris Robertson got his body behind James Vincent’s follow-up.
But there was no respite and from a Greg Tansey corner, Danny Devine flicked on and James Vincent sprang to execute a close-range header for the second.
County, naturally, were pumped up to retaliate as the second half opened and forced a series of chances. Boyce had an attempt saved by Owain Fon Williams, the Wales internationalist, while Brian Graham skied another County effort.
There was a short break in the frantic football on the hour, but not a welcome one for the Staggies. Scott Fox, the former Celtic and Partrick keeper, went down after twisting his ankle badly and had to be carried off on a stretcher.
Substitute Tony Dingwall gave County some hope inside the last 15 minutes with a fine run and cross from the right knocked for a corner.
Just as five minutes of stoppage time was announced, County were back in contention. Raffaele De Vita’s corner was headed back across the box by Chris Robertson and Boyce was there to head his 11th goal of the season in off the inside post. But it was never likely to be enough to salvage anything for County.
“We conceded two really poor goals, back-to-back, in a 10-minute period before half-time which gives us a mountain to climb,” Jim McIntyre, the home manager, admitted.
“All due credit to Inverness, but we took ourselves out of position and they punished us. You can’t afford to stand off players and let them pick a pass. The second goal just wasn’t like us, losing not just one header but two.
“They have their tails up and goals can deflate teams, but we rallied. The players gave us everything. We just didn’t have the final cross or pass into the box.”