So, who does own the Highlands?
Ross County make the short trek over the bridge to face Inverness in a crucial showdown as both clubs fight for their Premiership survival in what has become a relegation derby with another one to come before the end of the season. Tough times for both Highland clubs.
And they don't come much tougher than this. A local derby at the wrong end of the table with points needed by both clubs. The Highlands were predominantly ours, but this has been a substandard transitional season for Inverness, with County faring marginally better. This could change on Saturday. Is it a must win game? Possibly not, but it's certainly a must not lose game.
Inverness took a small step forward last weekend with a scarcely deserved but crucial point at Firhill, Gary Warren scoring with the last touch of the game. It was a vital one though as his header from a deep Billy King cross found the bottom corner to cancel out Kris Doolan's opener for Partick. Foran suffered badly from a lack of available players for this one with Ross Draper and Carl Tremarco suspended and the pacey Jake Mulraney injured and Aaron Doran out for the rest of the season. It showed in his team selection so a point at Partick is not to be scoffed at given our deficiencies.
County at one point this season looked good for a top-six place, but their form of late has been that of a relegation threatened side. Their good work at Tynecastle was undone as Killie came North and went home with all three points. A late Kris Boyd counter was the difference between the sides after Conor Sammon and Liam Boyce had scored earlier in the game. That turnaround and our late point at Partick means that there are only four points between the sides now.
Both clubs have picked up just seven points over their last ten games, County with two wins and a draw. One of those wins was a 3-2 victory in the last derby with Liam Boyce bagging a brace and Martin Woods notching the other. We toiled that day but goals from Carl Tremarco and Alex Fisher gave us some hope although it was a case of too little too late. County also won the first derby 3-2 with Boyce claiming a hat-trick that day. Scott Boden and Ross Draper scored for Inverness in another game where we fell short of the mark. Strangely enough, we have scored two more goals than County, once more it's the defence that has been letting us down with County conceding five less than us.
In truth, there's little between the sides, yet County manager Jim McIntyre is still searching for a route into the top-six. That has long been closed for Inverness as Richie Foran realised avoiding relegation is the priority. Sadly, if neither club find a bit of form going into the final games of the season, then relegation is a distinct possibility for both clubs. Thankfully, Hamilton and Motherwell are still in the mix for that unwanted position. Even a play-off game presumably against either Dundee United or Falkirk would not guarantee safety, so the battle is well and truly on to get to tenth place and avoid the dreaded drop and all the unwanted baggage that goes with it.
Richie Foran will be without Josh Meekings, Ryan Esson, Aaron Doran and Lewis Horner. Kevin McNaughton came through a development game in midweek unscathed and took it in his stride. However, a frantic derby may be a bit of a risk given the circumstances. Jake Mulraney missed out last week and we could do with his electifying pace out wide. Hopefully he has recovered fully from his injury. Youngster Jamie McCart on loan from Celtic has been called into the Scotland u21 squad after some promising displays for Inverness, so congratulations to him.
Jim McIntyre will be hoping to have Scott Fox back in goal for this one. Chris Burke, Tony Dingwall and Ian McShane are all out for the rest of the season. Jay McEvely will miss this weekend and Andrew Davies, Scott Fox and Martin Woods will be given every opportunity to make the derby. Alex Shalk has a broken bone in his hand but is expected to be included in the squad.
So, problems for County on the injury front as well. It will be interesting to see if either boss has placed his cards on the table or will there be any surprises included in the starting line-ups.
tm4tj prediction:- County are on a poor run just now and we have shown some battling qualities over the last few games that was missing earlier in the season. Injuries are still causing havoc with our team selections with Meekings and Doran out for the season and Esson struggling. It's great to have Billy Mckay back with us, but if we don't play to his strengths, then he would be as well sitting in the stand. He was isolated at Partick last week but with home advantage I expect us to get bodies forward to give him some assistance. County have won the two previous derby's, but the tide is turning at a crucial stage of the season. Liam Boyce scored his first goal of 2017 last week and if we can keep him quiet, then I will be looking for three points to bring County right down into the relegation mire.
Only ten games left to save our season, and on derby day, other games of interest to County and Inverness: Hamilton visit Rangers, Motherwell host St Johnstone and Killie and Partick play each other. Fingers crossed, results favour the Highlands.
Richie Foran & Henri Anier look forward to the derby............
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