ONE half of the Highland derby divide was soothing New Year hangovers with celebratory drinks last night and, for older fans of a Ross County persuasion, the commiserations were a familiar feeling.
Inverness Caledonian - 2
Storey 26; Tansey 45
Ross County - 0
Victory in the landmark 50th meeting of the clubs since league admission in 1994 made it 25 wins in all for the city club. Neighbours County have experienced that high only 12 times in over 21 years.
Miles Storey and Greg Tansey struck in the first half to give John Hughes’ side three points that took them to within two points of their fifth-placed foes with a game in hand. It was also the first time either side had triumphed at home in the showdown for two-and-a-half years since Canadian Andre Hainault’s Dingwall winner sank ICT’s European dream.
For manager John Hughes, pictured, the triumph was certainly cause enough to crack open any leftover New Year tipples.
“It was a good result and good performance. In terms of spirit and attitude, togetherness and a real solid shape, I couldn’t ask anymore,” Hughes said. “I’m just delighted for the supporters. It’s been a hard week travelling away to Aberdeen and midweek to Hamilton.
“So, we were fully aware of the effort and commitment the fans have given us. They have been absolutely different class.
“At this time of year, there are a few glasses of red and bottles of beer still going about. That one is for the supporters. Go and have a couple of glasses of red on us.”
Even removing the derby prestige and pressure, this was a match important to both clubs’ top-six aspirations.
Fifth-placed County knew they could move eight points ahead of their rivals by repeating late October’s League Cup win in Inverness.
County were in fine form, but were dealt a huge pre-match blow, with striker Liam Boyce ruled out for a month with a broken hand sustained in the victory over Kilmarnock.
Dutchman Alex Schalk won his first start in place of the 17-goal Northern Ireland international, but Craig Curran’s early injury exacerbated the problem.
The opening spell saw the Dingwall visitors hold the momentum, but they passed up a good chance after a mistake by Nat Wedderburn to the right of his own penalty area.
Michael Gardyne’s ball across found Rocco Quinn, but he shot over the crossbar.
After Curran’s fall and head injury, fit-again Brian Graham came on to form an unfamiliar front two with Schalk. Richard Foster then fluffed a second chance for County after 18 minutes, firing well over.
Midway through the first half, the hosts made the breakthrough. Tansey’s corner was half-cleared to the edge of the area where James Vincent drilled hard and low through a crowded area.
Storey, claiming his eighth goal in 16 games for Inverness, was there to execute a killer flick beyond the helpless Scott Fox.
County’s best chance to reply came four minutes before half-time, with Paul Quinn’s corner finding captain Andrew Davies leaping to head into Owain Fon Williams’ arms.
But it was Caley Thistle who doubled the margin almost on the stroke of half-time after Scott Boyd fouled’ midfielder Nat Wedderburn 22 yards out.
Tansey’s curling free-kick looked designed to attract a Caley Thistle head-flick, but arced over everyone in the penalty area and flew beyond startled Scott Fox in County’s goal.
Both sides knew the next goal was crucial and it provided a scrappy, stop-start opening to the second period.
County had a penalty claim waved away 10 minutes after the break as Ross Draper wrenched the ball away from Schalk in the penalty box.
Moments later, it was the hosts who threatened as Storey unleashed a powerful strike from almost 25 yards. County keeper Fox did superbly to tip the attempt onto the crossbar.
There was plenty energy in the remainder of the half, but the hosts used all of their experience to claim three points.