Inverness 2 - 1 Kilmarnock: ICT fight to victory

Graeme Shinnie celebrates after scoring ICT's second goal of the game. Picture: SNS
Graeme Shinnie celebrates after scoring ICT's second goal of the game. Picture: SNS
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TERRY Butcher described Hibernian’s supposed interest in his managerial talents as pure speculation on Saturday night, while admitting Inverness Caley Thistle would be a very difficult club to leave.

The England World Cup veteran and ex-Rangers captain is reportedly wanted as Pat Fenlon’s successor, with bookmakers slashing odds on his appointment overnight. But Butcher, who has just over six months of his current Inverness deal to run, denied any contact with Hibs and spoke of unfulfilled ambitions with his current club.

After witnessing a stirring league victory that restored his team to second place in the table, the 77-times capped Englishman said: “It was front page of a paper and people are talking about it. Then you have to respond to it. What I would say is it is just speculation as far as I’m concerned. Nobody has spoken about it at the club. The only people speaking about it are [the media].

“Would it be difficult to leave with a cup semi-final in store? I brought all of these players here. At any time it would be difficult. This team has a lot in it. We don’t know how good we can be or what’s at the end of it for us. But we have certainly given ourselves a good platform to build upon. They are all great lads.

“It has taken a bit of shaping, but it is great to see them play. It is all ifs, buts and maybes. We’ll wait and see.”

Butcher’s link with the Hibernian vacancy naturally dominated pre-match chatter, with away interest in the fact ex-Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels was also said to be one of those in the frame.

Both sides required focus on the here and now, though, with crucial points at stake. Conditions deteriorated rapidly, with heavy rain and a fierce, swirling cross-field wind. But none of it prevented a bright, enterprising start from Inverness culminating in a seventh-minute opener.

Richie Foran won the ball in midfield and fed the lively Marley Watkins on the right. Watkins’ delivery was controlled with trademark sharpness by Billy McKay inside the Killie area. The striker rolled the ball back to Aaron Doran at the edge of the area and his fierce strike took a wicked deflection off Sean Clohessy’s attempted block to wrong-foot keeper Craig Samson.

It was Doran’s third of the season, matching last season’s entire haul.

Killie’s response was less than convincing, with Kris Boyd cutting one strike over the bar and Michael Gardyne’s trickery on the break ending with another wild shot over.

The only real flutters for the home side came from their own doing. Keeper Dean Brill sent a careless pass straight to Gardyne but as the on-loan Dundee United player cut on to his left foot Richie Foran made a timely intervention.

Just seven minutes into the second period, Kilmarnock were in serious bother. Caley Thistle’s ability to pass and hold the ball and probe patiently was showcased with Doran, Foran, Nick Ross and Watkins all involved before the tenacious Graeme Shinnie took control.

Shinnie cut inside Darren Barr at the edge of the area and wrapped his left foot around it, beating Samson low into the left-hand corner.

Killie’s best hope of revival seemed to lie in the Gardyne-Boyd axis but too often the Rugby Park side resorted to an unimaginative route one strategy. But against the odds, the visitors struck back after 76 minutes when substitute Sammy Clingan’s free-kick wasn’t properly dealt with.

From a flick-on by striker Kris Boyd, Darren Barr found enough space to stab the ball past the helpless Brill.

Almost immediately, Inverness tore back at Killie, with Nick Ross striking the upright and Doran swerving a shot just over.

Remarkably, given their previous poise and control, this had the feel of a scrambled victory for Inverness by the death as Killie pressured. But a very valuable one nonetheless.

Killie manager Allan Johnston was upset that the recovery had fallen short. “I felt we put Inverness under good pressure in the second half,” said Johnston.

“They couldn’t even get out of their own half. If you put teams under that kind of pressure then you’ll eventually get a goal and that’s what happened.”