Inverness’ seven-year stay in the top-flight has come to and end, despite a 3-2 victory over Motherwell.
Before there was hope. Now it is time for recriminations. But in the midst of it all is a large slice of the utterly bizarre.
As the final whistle sounded and the reality of relegation hit home, the fans acted like they had just won the Scottish Cup all over again. Breaking away from their chants of “sack the board” for a few minutes, they swarmed the players who had moved to salute them, greeting them like heroes rather than the group who had taken their club down to the Championship.
Then, that done, they returned to the verbal vilification of the people running the club.
It was strange stuff but gives the board an indication of the supporters’ view on whether Richie Foran, right, and the majority of this squad should be given the opportunity to try to bounce back.
Having taken the battle to the final day, this game was only 25 minutes old when it became an irrelevance. That was when news came through that Hamilton had doubled their lead over Dundee.
The task of moving away from the foot of the table and somehow staying up had long since seemed beyond Foran’s side but somehow they entered this one with an escape route still visible. Win and if Hamilton failed to do likewise, against Dundee, the Highland side would live to fight another day, facing Dundee United in the play-offs. That sounded simple but making it a reality would not be easy for a club that had mustered only six league wins and had not managed back-to-back victories throughout the whole campaign. But on the final day, they did just that to make it seven wins. It was just not enough.Suggesting an air of optimism would be taking it too far but there was a sense of hope that fed off the midweek win at Dens Park. That was their second three points in three games and buoyed by that they started this game brightly enough. But while they pressed, there was a nervousness to their play that too often ended in poor decision-making and rash efforts at goal. But the crowd willed them on.
Billy McKay and Liam Polworth linked up in the fourth minute but the Motherwell defence nipped in at the last minute to steal the ball away. Polworth spread the play wide soon after but Alex Fisher’s cross was too deep. The intent was there but the execution was missing. Next up to test the Motherwell rearguard was Louis Laing but his screamer from distance was pushed clear of the target by Russell Griffiths.
But Motherwell were not going to sit back and hand their hosts an easy triumph. In the 15th minute Lionel Ainsworth broke down the flank and rifled a shot just wide..
Motherwell’s Elliot Frear had his shot blocked by Gary Warren but Inverness were still scrapping. Both David Raven and Ross Draper were dogged in winning the ball on the edge of the box but Draper’s bending strike failed to curl into the top corner.
With the pressure coming to nothing and the heavens weeping, the old adage of it never rains but it pours seemed pertinent. Never more so than two minutes later when news of Hamilton’s first goal filtered through. It was greeted with defiance in the home stands as they chanted for their team but the stuffing was knocked out of them when Hamilton made it 2-0.
Two years ago there was a Scottish Cup win to savour and they were finishing third in the league; now they face a season in the Championship and the fans made it clear that they lay the blame for that at the feet of the board. At news of Hamilton’s third and fourth goals the volume on the protests increased but so too did the players’ determination to sign off with a win.
Three goals in four minutes sealed that. First Aberdeen-bound Greg Tansey’s angled drive beat Griffiths, then top scorer Fisher linked with Draper to slot home one and then audaciously flick home another.
It was enough to secure the win, despite Motherwell rallying with late goals by James McFadden in the 74th minute and then Ryan Bowman from the penalty spot, with virtually the last kick of the ball. It wasn’t enough to save Inverness’ Premiership status. The battle for that begins again next season.