A REALITY check, or merely a blip for Inverness? They didn’t play that badly here, particularly in the first half, but they were outgunned on this occasion by a Partick Thistle side that were lively and incisive in attack and impressively disciplined in defence when they needed to be.
Scorers: Partick Thistle - Lawless 19; Osman 23; Higginbotham 72; Inverness Caley Thistle - Doran 13
It provided, perhaps for the first time this season, a reminder that there really isn’t much of a quality gap between the majority of the sides in the Premiership and whilst adding an element of intrigue as to where exactly these two sides might eventually end up come next May.
Having fallen in arrears to an Aaron Doran goal after only 13 minutes, Alan Archibald’s men quickly recovered with some gusto with quickfire strikes from Steven Lawless and Abdul Osman. They adroitly snuffed out much of the Inverness threat after half time and with Kallum Higginbotham adding a third they could even afford the luxury of missing a penalty late on as Dean Brill smothered Kris Doolan’s weak effort.
Others – including Celtic – had tried and failed, but the home side had the guile, and most importantly, the width in the form of Lawless and Higginbotham to stretch the Inverness defence to the point where it finally conceded goals in an opening 45 minutes that barely paused for breath. Initially it seemed that the Highlanders were going to be carrying on seamlessly from where they left off before the International break, helping themselves to an early advantage through a well worked goal from Doran. A defence-splitting dummy by David Raven sent the midfielder clear and he buried a low shot behind Scott Fox from just inside the box. The
Partick fans groaned, fearing their side’s bright start had been to no avail but in a blistering four-minute spell they prised open the curmudgeonly visitors’ rearguard not once but twice. Lawless carved out the first, getting past Josh Meekings and cutting inside before finding the back of the net with a well-struck drive that went in off the post. If that was down to individual skill Thistle’s second found the visitors collectively culpable as Higgingbotham swung over a corner that was met by the unmarked Osman who proceeded to beat Brill with a downward header.
“Once we scored the goal it brought the belief out in the players,” asserted Archibald. “It’s great that we were able to go with Lawless and Higginbotham today, they’re two flair players and to be fair to them they’ve been doing it in training all week. We just needed to get the right ball to them”.
Inverness were both shaken and stirred. Understandably keen to get back on level terms before half-time, they pressed forward and on most other days Billy McKay probably would have taken at least one of a trio of chances that came his way as the interval loomed. Fox made a crucial and immensely brave block at the striker’s feet to deny him from close range and the Northern Irishman then just couldn’t find the target with a hooked shot and overhead effort respectively.
This turned out to be about as good as it got for the visitors. Partick visibly tightened things up at the back in the second half with Daniel Seaborne and Conrad Balatoni shutting down the supply to McKay and Ryan Christie. One awkward bobbling shot from the latter aside Fox was never troubled in the same way as he had been in the opening 45 minutes.
“That’s what happens when you don’t take your chances,” observed John Hughes. “In the second half, Partick to their credit really closed us down and we went totally cavalier for the last 20 minutes, so they were always going to get openings”.
Going forward, the home side did indeed continue to flourish as the gaps widened with Inverness pushing upfield. Higginbotham was twisting and turning his markers endlessly and he deservedly got his name on the scoresheet with the decisive goal after 72 minutes with a sweet first-time shot that flew into the bottom corner of the net.
If there were going to be any more goals in this game they always looked likely to be for the Firhill side from this point as they energetically pushed forward. A fourth should have been theirs when Doolan was upended by Raven as he beavered his way into the box, but having got the award the home striker fluffed his spot kick.