Killie Pie Time
Inverness head to Kilmarnock on Saturday after the international break for a game that could shape the seasons of both clubs after their poor starts to the season.
International breaks are usually quiet affairs, but not so for fans of Inverness Caledonian Thistle as the vacant post at Tannadice was played out in the full glare of the media. This break was fraught with tension as John Hughes became the bookies favourite to take over at Tannadice after Tommy Wright's St Johnstone told the Arabs where to go. The Inverness board did likewise with Hughes, but the silence was deafening after that fuelling speculation that Yogi was gone. However, in stepped Mixu to save the day at the eleventh hour, and, after the dust had settled, John Hughes remains at Inverness and Mixu Paatelainen starts the task of getting Dundee United off the foot of the table.
We like our International breaks to be gentle, a time for getting injured players up to speed and players relaxing with their families. Not this one as our gaffer played hard ball. However, it's mentally not the best way to prepare for your next League encounter.
So, with all the guesswork and wind ups put to bed, let's get on with the season, a season that started slowly but is now building a head of steam as we take the Leagues longest current unbeaten run (six games since last defeat) down to Ayrshire to face a resurgent Kilmarnock.
Killie finished 10th last term and would have fancied their chances to better that this season. Let's find out who are the in's and out's at Rugby Park that Gary Locke believes will see them climb the table. Well, the main man given the task of scoring the goals is former Rugby Park idol Kris Boyd. He has returned from the Rangers a few stone heavier, but the same man knows how to find the back of the net given half a chance. Add in a trio of signings from Tynecastle in the shape of Kevin McHattie (defender), Scott Robinson (midfielder) and forward Dale Carrick. Another striker, Kallum Higginbotham has joined from Partick Thistle and the experienced Lee McCulloch came in from Championship side the Rangers. Cup final clanger Jamie MacDonald has signed from Falkirk along with another keeper, Oliver Davies on loan from Swansea City, Stevie Smith has also gone up in the world coming from Ibrox as well, and a loan signing from Celtic in defender Stuart Findlay. To make way for the new guys, out went former Scotland striker Lee Miller, the experienced Manuel Pascali, Paul Cairney to Stranraer and keeper Craig Samson. Midfielder Sammy Clingan has gone, so no more Star Trek jokes and the luxury that was Alexei Eremenko, a tremendous player on his day, but has probably gone out to seed now. A raft of lesser mortals have also left the building and Gary Locke will be looking for these guys to blend with what he already has, although it's been a less than pleasing start for the Killie fans.
Last season we did hold the upper hand in the three games played between the clubs. A 3-3 draw at Inverness was followed by a 2-1 victory at Rugby Park. The final game saw Inverness take all three points in a 2-0 win.
Rugby Park was also the ground where we recorded our best ever away win with a 6-3 trouncing of Kilmarnock on Guy Fawkes day 2011. There were certainly plenty of fireworks that day as Inverness sparkled on the pitch whilst Killie were like damp squibs and old bangers. We scored a few crackers as well and a rocket from Jonny Hayes. Gregory Tade even managed a couple and Andy Shinnie went one better as he fired a hat-trick. Ahhh, those were the days.
Killie's highlights this season have been a 2-2 draw with Celtic and their two wins against Dundee United and St Johnstone. Unfortunately for them, they have also suffered too many low points, a 4-0 hammering from Dundee was repeated by Ross County, both games played at Rugby Park. Just when it looked as though they had turned the corner with consecutive wins, they lost to Hamilton although they drew with Hearts last time out. A bit similar to us from the beginning and the stats show that we have scored only one goal more than Killie but our defence is less porous. There's a gap of four points between the clubs and Killie sit where they finished last season in 10th place with Inverness in 8th.
Sick list has the usual suspects for Inverness. Dean Brill, Gary Warren, Jordan Roberts, Aaron Doran, Richie Foran and Tobi Sho-Silva. Ryan Christie will be available after missing the derby through suspension. Iain Vigurs scored from a free kick in the development game in midweek and Dani Lopez notched a goal as did Andrew MacRae, so these guys will be looking to push into the starting eleven. All that happened in a 3-1 win at Clach Park over Hearts.
Gary Locke could have the option of fielding captain Mark Connolly who is returning after medial ligament damage and Lee Ashcroft will return after suspension. However, Scott Robinson, Darryl Westlake and Dale Carrick are unlikely to feature after resuming training following injuries.
tm4tj prediction:- Things are looking up for Inverness after a dismal opening sequence and to be fair, Kilmarnock have perked up a bit as well. Great news on the managerial front with John Hughes staying put, but it remains to be seen if that will encourage the board to lash out with a new contract for Yogi. That aside, it is a boost to keep the status quo and the emergence of Miles Storey as a goal threat and James Vincent as a box to box predator has lifted the gloom around Inverness and gives the fans renewed hope for the rest of the season. Owain Fon-Williams has been performing well since the Europa games and the defence is more settled with Josh Meekings back. Kris Boyd will always be a threat, no matter what size he is and Gary Locke will be looking to push on after an erratic start to their campaign. Another man who will be useful is the human battering ram that is Josh Magennis who is returning on a high from international duty with Northern Ireland. Our season has transformed quicker than Killie's and I can see us extending our unbeaten run.
Johndo, our regular soothesayer, will be at Rugby Park and will have a full report for us after the game once he returns to his present form.