Pandemonium in the Highlands

25/10/2012 § Leave a comment

Andrew Shinnie wheels away in delight after scoring Inverness’s second goal of the evening in the Highland derby

Friday October 5, 2012 was the night that the first ever top-flight Highland derby in Scottish football history would take place. A cold, blustery and wet night, (just the average day in Inverness!) would see a match full of passion, pace, tenacity and intrigue, eventually resulting in a home victory.

Visitors Ross County lined up with four ex-Caley Thistle favourites in their side. Goalkeeper Michael Fraser, midfield playmaker Iain Vigurs, defensive stalwart Grant Munro, and record Inverness appearance-maker and defender Ross Tokely. Still, the sight of Tokely turning out in SPL matches with something other than an ICT shirt around him is difficult to grasp and come to terms with.

Derek Adams’ team came into the derby on the back of a recent triumph of the Scottish Football League Division 1 that they won at a canter. Yet despite that, the Dingwall side have so far slightly struggled to come to terms with the extra pace and quality that top flight football in Scotland provides. The summer departure of key man Michael Gardyne to Dundee United on a pre-contract agreement, not helping matters.

Caledonian Stadium, Inverness

A capacity crowd of 6,766 rain-drenched fans crammed into the Caledonian Stadium on the banks of the North Sea, and it was Inverness who started like a house on fire. Tricky winger, and arguably best player on the night Aaron Doran sent in a deep back post cross only for Tokely, known for his erratic actions and under no pressure whatsoever, to crash a header back off the top of his own crossbar with goalkeeper Fraser stranded.

Shortly after, Caley Thistle midfielder and the giraffe-like Owain Tudur-Jones drove at the visiting defence, played a neat one-two with Arsenal loanee Philip Roberts, and got his shot past Fraser only to see Munro make a last gasp clearance off the line in front of the visiting fans.

Ross County looked like nerves personified, and the home fans were driving the team on, making noise similar to European nights at Anfield or Ibrox. As a result, after a mere nine minutes, the breakthrough came. Graeme Shinnie floated in an in-swinging corner for midfielder Ross Draper, a summer arrival from Macclesfield Town in England, to tower above everyone else in the penalty area and head home into the top corner. Draper has already caught the eye this season with 2 goals against Celtic springing to mind. The home fans were sent into raptures. Clearly the gloomy weather wasn’t going to put a dampener on proceedings!

Ross County manager Derek Adams

However the visitors, roared on by fiery manager Adams, brought about a swift response. The ball was laid on to Mark Fotheringham on the end of the box, and his fantastic curling shot cannoned back off the post with home goalkeeper Antonio Reguero, once an understudy to Iker Casillas at Real Madrid, scrambling across his line. Dead ball specialist Richard Brittain then looped a free kick over the bar.

Sadly for the Dingwall side, that’s all they could conjure up in the first half, and Inverness took advantage. Just before the half hour, Tudur-Jones knocked the ball forward and Munro made a terrible error miss-kicking and letting in tireless striker Richie Foran behind the defence. Irishman Foran drove into the box and squared for Andrew Shinnie on the penalty spot to steer the ball past Fraser. Munro tried to make amends but headed straight at the acrobatic Reguero at the other end. Doran then fired straight at Fraser and that was all she wrote for the first half.

Inverness manager Terry Butcher

No doubt Adams had a few tempered words to say to his troops at the break. It is this never-say-die attitude that has made the man such a popular figure at Victoria Park. Adams is in his second spell in Dingwall as manager, after a brief tenure as assistant to Colin Calderwood’s miserable Hibs reign in Edinburgh. A historic 2-0 Scottish Cup semi final Hampden victory over Celtic is unforgettable for County fans.

Whatever the manager said in the changing room, it seemed to work. Three minutes into the second half midfielder Vigurs produced the visitors one real piece of quality in the game, and sent a glorious free kick over the wall and into the net past the flying Reguero in front of the away end.

Ross County were back in it and had their tails up, in a game that seemed to be passing them by. Far different to the shell-shocked side of the first half and credit had to go to Adams. Tokely then rampaged down the right flank and sent in a daisy cutting cross only for targetman Colin McMenamin to see his flick go agonizingly wide. Ex-Celtic man Rocco Quinn then saw a close range effort blocked by Reguero.

Inverness had to calm the storm, and went up the other end for a ricochet to fall to Draper, clean through, but he fired directly into Fraser’s sternum.

With the game petering out, the home side were able to give the fans one last hurrah and put the gloss on a deserved victory three minutes from time. Graeme Shinnie’s long diagonal was knocked down by Billy McKay, and Doran sent a scintillating volley into the bottom corner from the edge of the box, that was past Fraser in a flash. The home faithful went into ecstasy and that brought to an end the first ever top-flight Highland derby. Extended highlights can be seen here.

Aaron Doran celebrates with Connor Pepper after scoring the final goal of the night

Post-game, Butcher inevitably praised the passion of his players and credited a great game of football. He commented on how football in the Highlands is thriving right now and that both teams play an excellent game. Adams also echoed his companion’s thoughts and stated that “it was a good spectacle for the league.”

It’s on nights like these that the idea of Armageddon without Rangers in the top flight is well and truly forgotten. Another captivating SPL match.

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