Easter Road, Leith, on a bleak midwinter night is not the ideal evening out, but Inverness will be doing just that on Wednesday night as they face fellow strugglers Hibernian in another six-pointer.
Back to back wins are not so common this season and Inverness will be looking to break the mould and keep their distance from the sleeping Edinburgh giants after overcoming Aberdeen on Xmas Eve in a gruelling encounter played out in the teeth of a storm.
Inverness have gradually eased themselves away from the foot of the table and sit four points ahead of the bottom pair of Dunfermline and Hibs. Both of these clubs have a game in hand but it is getting rather congested down there as Aberdeen are still inconsistent enough to warrant a place just above Inverness and are still in the mix for the drop as we type.
Alternative Maryhill has been busy on the train home and has conjured up his own pantomime to add some festive cheer to the dark depressing nights ahead...........read on and enjoy
Curtain Call for Caley Jags
Hibernian FC is renowned as the club of choice for some of Scotland’s most eminent contributors to the arts: Irvine Welsh, Fish and Pat Nevin, to name but three. Perhaps the greatest of them all, however, is Grant Stott, a true giant of light entertainment thanks to much-loved TV shows such as Scotsport, Fully Booked and Wemyss Bay 90210. Grant, sadly, will miss tomorrow’s match as he is starring as Gobina McPhlegm, arch-villain in the King’s Theatre production of Cinderella. If he had time to stop and reflect, however, Grant would realise that a remarkably similar story is unfolding down Leith way...
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Easter Road Stadium on a cold winter’s night. A single floodlight illuminates the centre circle. Enter CinderFenlon, dressed in green and white rags and playing a mournful version of ‘Sunshine on Leith’ on a tin whistle.
CinderFenlon (stops playing and tearfully addresses the empty stands😞 Oh, if only I could go to the Season 2012-13 SPL ball. I’ve been here a month and all I’ve done is try to clean things up, but there still seems to be sh*te everywhere I look.
Pow! There is a puff of green smoke and Eoin Doyle appears, clad in a sparkly emerald mini-dress.
Eoin Doyle: CinderFenlon, you SHALL go to the SPL Season 2012-13 ball!
CinderFenlon: Who are you?
Eoin Doyle: I’m your fairy godmother. You signed me from Sligo Rovers.
CinderFenlon: So I did... hang on, though, aren’t you ineligible until the transfer window opens?
Doyle/Godmother: Feck it. I’ve come in early again. Oh well, you’ll just have to rely on Griffiths and O’Connor.
CinderFenlon: Ah Jaysis. Griffiths’ loan spell is almost up – he’s going back to Wolves next month. And O’Connor’s injured again ... I think the fecker must have glass feet or something.
Doyle/Godmother: Sorry Cinders – you’re on your own then.
CinderFenlon: Some fairy godmother you are. Could you not at least turn a couple of pumpkins into players for me?
Doyle/Godmother: It’s already been tried. Didn’t work. Where do you think Paul Hanlon and Danny Galbraith came from?
And with that, Doyle/Godmother vanishes in another puff of green smoke and CinderFenlon sinks to his haunches in the centre circle, head bowed, fingering his tin whistle. As the light on him dims, two more floodlights come up on opposite corners of the far end of the ground. There is a panic-stricken cry of ‘Behind You!’ from the Hibs Coaching Staff on the sidelines, but CinderFenlon is so absorbed in his own misery that he does not hear, and so does not notice, as the Pantomime Horse and the Ugly Sisters enter from either side of the far end of the field and come to halt facing each other in front of the Famous Five Stand goal. The Pantomime Horse is first to speak: the nasal voice coming through its neck-grille is immediately recognisable as that of Derek Adams.
Pantomime Horse / Adams: Agent Scott. Agent Brown. Half a season down, and all is going to plan. I am delighted with your work.
The light comes up fully on the Ugly Sisters, revealing the hellish features of Martin ‘Jimmy’ Scott and Mark Brown.
Sisters Scott and Brown (in unison😞 Thank You, Master. We are keeping our side of the bargain. Hibernian are joint bottom, with two more games against Dunfermline still to come. However, how can we be sure, O Master, that you will honour your part of the agreement? You are, after all, the living embodiment of evil...
Pantomime Horse / Adams: Don’t worry, Jimmy. You will always be a hero to our supporters; moreover, as someone given to assaulting his own team-mates, you are clearly a man from the same mould as me. Your transfer back north is assured, as soon as we replace Hibs in the SPL. And Mark, fear not: as you are an ex-ICT player, we are required by law to sign you for Ross County. Just make sure Hibs keep losing. (From the sidelines, the Hibs Coaching Staff shout ‘Boooo! Hiss!’ for all they are worth. The villains pay no attention.)
Sisters Scott and Brown (in unison😞 We hear and obey.
Pantomime Horse / Adams: Splendid. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to Dingwall, and out of this suit. Iain Vigurs is playing my hind quarters tonight, and I’m getting sick of having his head stuck up my arse... (Pantomime Horse / Adams / Vigurs turns and exits stage left; the Ugly Sisters exit stage right.)
Will CinderFenlon ever go to the SPL Season 2012-13 ball, or will diabolical horse Adams and his hideous inside agents Scott and Brown triumph and send Hibernian FC into the fizzy-pop league? Tune in again in May and find out...
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So much for the Easter Road pantomime. Up in Inverness, meanwhile, Caley Thistle have managed to cover the whole spectrum of theatrical genres this season: tragedy, comedy, farce, mystery... and that was just the Dundee United home game. Having taken the season’s habit of losing beautifully to new heights at Ibrox the following weekend, however, last Saturday ICT finally rediscovered the habit of winning ugly when they beat Aberdeen 2-1. Before kick off the signs weren’t encouraging: our bogey team had hit a bit of form, strong winds and rain ensured that flowing football would be impossible, and suspensions and late injury call-offs meant that a central defence and midfield that have already swapped partners more frequently than the Krankies this season would again have to bed in new combinations. Yet in spite of this, a Caley Thistle team inspired by Roman Golabart and David Davis ground out a difficult win to take the Inverness club four points ahead of Dunfermline and next opponents Hibernian and leave the ICT supporters wondering if a corner has finally been turned. One thing that this game and the Rangers game that preceded it reassured the supporters of was that this ICT team, for all its fragility, is absolutely unified and committed to the cause, something that Hibernian supporters have been unable to claim of their players this season. Managing to chalk up consecutive wins for the first time this season would surely represent the overcoming of a big psychological hurdle for the Inverness players; yet Hibs’ supporters will feel that Pat Fenlon must sooner or later get his first win as Hibernian manager and will see playing Caley Thistle, a team against which they have a strong home record, as a great opportunity to do so.
Assuming, that is, that they are even aware that their team is playing ICT. Clearly the perception of Hibs as ‘big team’, ICT as ‘diddy club’ is still strong. Over on ‘hibeesbounce.com’ there are several threads already in existence about the Edinburgh derby on January 2nd but none on the ICT fixture tomorrow night, and if Terry Butcher’s players need any more motivation than putting seven points between them and Pat Fenlon’s side in order to beat Hibs, then all they need to do is witness the presumption of Hibernian supporters such as ‘jimmyhibs’ who dismisses the game with the line, ‘Of course, we still have to see to ICT. Which I believe we will.’ Cheers, Jimmy. I hope your words come back and choke you.
For tomorrow’s game, ICT will be without long-term injury victims Owain Tudur-Jones, Chris Hogg and David Proctor; Aaron Doran was on the bench against Aberdeen, hopefully signifying a return to full fitness, while Josh Meekings should hopefully be fit enough to be considered for selection. The biggest questions marks are over Ross Tokely and Andrew Shinnie, both key players so far this season, who missed the Aberdeen game with calf injuries. Terry Butcher has been quoted as saying that he will ‘give them every chance’, but with the game against St Johnstone coming only five days after this one, he may not risk returning them too early. Although Kenny Gillet lacked a little presence in the centre of defence on Saturday, Butcher may well be happy to stick with a winning team: I would expect the formation utilised in the Rangers and Aberdeen games, with Foran in a deeper role, Tade playing wide left and Billy Mackay playing as a lone striker, to be retained against Hibs.
Hibs cannot really point to injuries as a significant factor in their poor form this season: rather, there seems to have been a failure of the personnel, many impressive-looking as individuals, to gel into a team. The squad is close to full strength for tomorrow’s game: Isaiah Osbourne is the only certain absentee, but Caley Thistle could be given a boost if Garry O’Connor, absent from the Dundee United game with a bruised toe, is again missing. With new signing Eoin Doyle still ineligible, the talented but unpredictable Leigh Griffiths is almost certain to start up front, but beyond that this team is anyone’s guess. Pat Fenlon has tinkered with the system, but it seems that players who quite recently looked like great prospects, such as David Wotherspoon, Calum Booth, Lewis Stevenson and Danny Galbraith, are simply not playing to their potential. After their recent defeat to Dundee United, Pat Fenlon admitted that the players did not look fit enough: hopefully Terry Buthcer will have taken note of this and will encourage the likes of Hayes, Davis and Tade to run the legs off the Hibs players.
Strong winds are once again forecast for tomorrow night, and these could play a part in influencing the game’s outcome, but Caley Thistle proved on Saturday that they could cope with difficult conditions. Moreover, although the team has still to notch up consecutive wins, there is no denying the fact that they have notched up consecutive great performances in the past eleven days, and this should be boost to their confidence. By contrast, Hibs have lost four league games on the bounce and haven’t won in seven, and the team looks shot of confidence and lacking in direction. Hopefully I won’t put a jinx on them by doing so, but I am predicting an ICT win and a resounding curtain call in front of the travelling support at the end of an interesting but difficult year.
Hibernian 1 – Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2