THEY are being treated to attractive, sometimes delightfully chaotic football in Inverness these days, but never let it be said that the local populace is easy to please.
Scorers: Inverness Caley Thistle - Shinnie 17; Ross 33; Williams 52; Kilmarnock - Eccleston 20; Esson o.g. 45; Obadeyi 61
Expectation levels are soaring to the extent there was a murmur of boos at full time as John Hughes’ side drew to move seven points clear of Dundee United in the race for Europe.
Even the manager was at it as well. Hughes must have delighted in some of the home play but has been shrewd in managing the mood and drive of this team – now nine games unbeaten in 2015 – and aimed some criticism at the performance afterwards. After watching them toss away the lead three times, Hughes called for his high-flyers to display more savvy and street-wise restraint at crucial times in matches when in front.
The adventurous Ayrshire men certainly picked their moments to expose the hosts’ over-exuberant attack. It was simply superb, captivating stuff against Gary Locke’s defiant team.
Now preparing for a crunch “six-pointer” against United on Tuesday night, Hughes said: “It was a game we should have won. We did enough to win it, without being at our best. The pitch wasn’t conducive to our style of play but all credit to the boys. They showed great patience.
“All of our goals were good football goals but I was disappointed with those we conceded. When you score three goals at home, you should be winning the football match. Sometimes we’re too cavalier – we want to score two, three, four. Sometimes when you’re ahead, you need to keep your shape and break on teams.”
The breakthrough arrived after 17 minutes, with Aberdeen-bound Graeme Shinnie hungrily snapping up his chance. He struck with a decisive left-foot volley close in after Marley Watkins leapt to knock a header back across goal from David Raven’s searching ball into the box.
Killie hadn’t shown too much threat, but enjoyed a little stroke of good fortune to equalise just three minutes later. The lively, tricky Chris Johnston tried a dig from outside the box and his effort ricocheted off team-mate Nathan Eccleston and Dons defender Gary Warren before dropping kindly into the former’s path. Eccleston showed poise in cushioning the equalising volley past Ryan Esson.
A sweeping move nudged the hosts back ahead again after 33 minutes. Ryan Christie’s skill on the ball sparked the danger before Watkins sliced the ball back across goal to Nick Ross, who saw his finish spin wickedly into the net with the help of a deflection.
It seemed Caley Thistle might extend their lead before the break but, somehow, the Rugby Park men mustered a second reply, right on the stroke of half time. Again, there was an element of good fortune in the circumstances, although it was cruel on Craig Slater that it was destined to go down as an own goal. Some 25 yards out, Slater struck the ball sweetly and with venom, watching it tipped against the post by Esson before it cannoned back into the net off the keeper’s back.
Caley Thistle must have felt aggrieved to be level at half time, but wasted little time in rectifying matters after the break. Just seven minutes after the restart, Danny Williams stepped up to take a free-kick close to 30 yards out and unleashed an absolute screamer past Craig Samson.
Killie grabbed the sixth goal of an increasingly frantic game just after the hour. Moments earlier, young Ryan Christie had bailed out colleague David Raven with a great saving tackle on Tope Obadeyi after a rocket-fuelled run on the break.
From Slater’s corner Manuel Pascali knocked down a thumping header and Obadeyi diverted a shot into the net.
Locke, who lost defender Mark Connolly to a broken collarbone in the first half, was thrilled with his team. “I think the main feeling is pride after that,” the Killie manager said. “The boys have shown tremendous character. That’s five times in the last two weeks we’ve been behind and come back. I can’t give the players enough credit.
Inverness CT: Esson, Raven, Warren, Meekings, Shinnie, Draper, Tansey, Ross (Ferguson 74), Christie, Williams, Watkins. Subs not used: Mackay, Devine, Horner, Tremarco, Polworth, Sutherland.
Kilmarnock: Samson, Barbour, Connolly (Syme 42), Pascali, Westlake, Johnston, O’Hara, Slater, Obadeyi; Eccleston (Kiltie 79), Magennis. Subs not used: Brennan, Smith, Hawkshaw, Liddington.
Referee: S McLean. Attendance: 2,912.
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