St Mirren 2-2 Inverness: Big Guy’s baptism of fire in exciting opener

A LATE header by Darren McGregor salvaged a point for St Mirren in Paisley yesterday. The big defender, who missed most of last season through injury, rose to glance a searching cross past the goalkeeper in what was a dramatic and ill-tempered climax to an enthralling match.

No sooner had the equaliser been scored than St Mirren were reduced to ten men. As Ross Draper, the Inverness midfielder, tried to retrieve the loose ball from his own net, he clashed with Lewis Guy, who was red-carded for swinging an arm at his opponent.

It capped an eventful debut for Guy, who had given his team a first-half lead, only to see goals by Nick Ross and Willie McKay – scored in a second-half thunderstorm of almost biblical proportions – turn this full-blooded encounter on its head.

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The irony was that Draper might easily have been sent off earlier, so keen was he to put himself about in midfield. He was booked, like seven others, but his continued fouling was fortunate to go unpunished. “I asked the boys in the dressing-room who didn’t get booked, and nobody put their hands up,” said Terry Butcher, the Inverness manager.

What the match lacked in quality it more than made up for in incident. “Rip-roaring stuff,” said Butcher. “A man sent off, could have been more goals… should have been more goals.”

Draper, signed from Macclesfield Town, was one of four new signings given a start, all of them blessed with the same intimidating frame as their manager, his towering partnership with Owain Tudur Jones in the centre quite a challenge for their opposite numbers.

Butcher seems to have got himself a big and powerful team, but in the first half, it was trumped by the guile of their smaller opponents. Sure, there was an early effort wide by Andrew Shinnie, and Draper blasted a shot that Gary Teale cleared off the line, but the most effective work was at the other end.

Guy, signed from MK Dons, should have done better than head over the bar when Dougie Imrie picked him out at the front post, but he made up for it a few minutes later, when Paul McGowan set him up with a weighted pass into the right channel. The striker pulled his low, right-foot shot across the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net. Early in the second half, Guy had the chance to score again from a similar position, this time after a flick by Sam Parkin, St Mirren’s other new arrival, but his angled shot came off the goalkeeper’s legs.

Encouraged perhaps by that let-off, Inverness started to play some football, first when Willie McKay received the ball with his back to goal, turned his marker and swung a shot to the far post. Craig Samson, at full stretch, got the faintest of touches.

Then, after a spectacular thunder storm that had the players suddenly splashing through puddles, Inverness equalised. Ross, the substitute, had been on only a couple of minutes when he stole in at the front post to divert Aaron Doran’s cross past the goalkeeper.

In the ten minutes it took for the monsoon to stop, Inverness found time for a second. Lee Mair’s attempt to turn the ball back to his goalkeeper succeeded only in setting up McKay, who darted forward to poke the ball through Samson’s legs.

Butcher admitted that it had been an eye-opener for his new players. “One or two of them were like, wow, that was pretty tasty. I think this is an exciting league. Yes, there are mistakes, but there is lots of quality too. And you always get goals when we play. It is not for the faint-hearted.”