Back to the day job.
A cup run is a welcome break from the weekly chore of trying to get back into the Premiership, but it's back to the bread and butter stuff this weekend as we take to the road again with a visit to Falkirk, the land of the Kelpies, the Big Wheel and the Antonine wall, a sort of poor mans Hadrian's wall.
It's the fifth meeting between the sides this season already. Falkirk won the first up in the Highlands in a league Cup encounter when we were going through our disarray period. That was followed by a 0-0 draw at Falkirk during the clean sheet era where we looked to be the better side. Our improvement continued as we narrowly won the Challenge cup game 1-0 at the Caledonian Stadium. As confidence began to spread through the ranks, the evolution reached new heights when we skelped the Bairns 4-1 and that is where we are now, the new improved Caley Jags. Let's hope we can keep the trend going.
Last weekend both clubs were to put their day jobs aside and play in Scottish Cup ties. However, Falkirk ended up with a day off when their game against Livi at the Pasta Place was postponed, the weather winning that tie. It did go ahead on Tuesday night though and Falkirk progressed into the 5th round courtesy of a deflected goal in injury time from a Reghan Tumilty cross.
Inverness did play though, and managed a creditable 2-2 draw at Premier side Dundee. It took a late goal from George Oakley to earn the replay, but it was well deserved. Aaron Doran had opened the scoring in the first half only for Dundee to edge ahead with Sofien Moussa deflecting an A-Jay Smith-Leitch shot beyond Mark Ridgers. Mark O'Hara added a second after a midfield lapse and our defence backing off, and as time ticked away, Oakley pounced to merit the replay, which will be held at the Caledonian Stadium on Tuesday night 30th January.
The last time these two met was just over two weeks ago in a re-arranged fixture. The scoreline was somewhat startling considering the hiding Falkirk meted out to Championship contenders Dundee United only three days earlier. The 6-1 thrashing sent ripples throughout the Championship and many feared the worst. However, Inverness dealt out their own punishment as they pumped the Bairns 4-1. We went on a scoring spree and were three up at the break with Oakley, Bell and Mulraney hitting the net. Falkirk tightened up after the break and pulled one back through Longridge, but we extended our lead again when substitute and former Falkirk player John Baird scored the fourth. Who would have thought?
Since that game we have beaten Queen of the South and drawn with Dundee in the cup. Falkirk's inconsistent season saw them come away with all three points from Greenock on the Saturday after the loss at Inverness. Craig Sibbald getting the winner in the 20th minute. Paul Hartley spoke to BBC Sport after the game: "Credit to the players and how they performed today. They had to dig deep to get the result. The movement, work-rate and enthusiasm of Louis Longridge and Andrew Nelson to take defenders on and to put people under pressure was pleasing. The lads here are digging deep and want to stay in the team, and they are working well just now."
It would appear that Paul Hartley is finally getting to find out his best XI. Full-back Reghan Tumilty's loan from Ross County has been extended and he has taken in Louis Longridge from Hamilton on a permanent deal after his loan spell ended. He has already scored three goals in three games. Sean Welsh has been taken on from Partick Thistle. Swansea City midfielder Ryan Blair and forwards Alex Jakubiak, from Watford, and Andrew Nelson, from Sunderland have all arrived on loan deals. Young Celtic keeper Conor Hazard arrives on loan for the rest of the season. The clearout has begun in earnest with midfielder James Craigen and striker Lee Miller leaving. Defender Luca Gasparotto has made a permanent move to Morton having been on loan to them. Add that to the earlier releases of Conrad Balatoni, Liam Henderson and Nathan Austin, it's clear to see that Hartley is looking to go down a different route to the previous manager. The latest departure is midfielder Mark Kerr. Even later news is that promising defender Tony Gallacher is off to Liverpool for £200K. Blimey, is anybody left?
Inverness have Carl Tremarco out for another month or so. Charlie Trafford took a nasty head knock against Dundee and is struggling with sickness, and between petulance and incompetence, we have two players suspended for accumulative bookings. Like Trafford, both are midfielders and Liam Polworth and Iain Vigurs will miss one game. Nathan Austin and Jake Mulraney were rested on the bench, and given both players are recovering from slight injuries then that's no bad thing with some tough games coming up. Aaron Doran may not play given the artificial surface and his long term rehab from knee surgery. So it looks like it's all hands to the pumps for Inverness. With Jake Mulraney walking around with a large FOR SALE sign on his back, it's reassuring to know that Hearts have signed another pacey wide player, Danny Amankwaa. Hopefully Jake will be left here for a bit longer.
Falkirk may be without Tom Taiwo who was injured in the cup game at Livingston. A badly swollen ankle causing him to come off. Hartley did say on Taiwo, “Tom isn’t too bad, he is ok. We will see how he is in the morning and assess him to see if he is fit for Saturday’s match. He got a bit of a fright, it looked a nasty one at the time, but it’s not as serious as we thought so he may have a chance to face Inverness". Smokescreen or what? With a multitude of departures and arrivals, it's anyone's guess who Paul Hartley will select.
tm4tj prediction:- Both sides have improved from a poor start to the season and if the recent encounter is anything to go by then the smart money will be on Inverness. However, closer scrutiny will show that Falkirk did pass on some good chances in that game and after a sloppy first half by their own admission they improved drastically after the break. Hartley has begun re-shaping his side to his own requirements and after a hard earned win over Livi in midweek they will be out to get some revenge over Robbo's side after the 4-1 defeat in the Highlands. We will be without Carl Tremarco but his replacement Riccardo Calder has offered us some attacking threat on the left. Jake Mulraney and Nathan Austin could come back in as well so we might just have enough flair to edge this game. Anything better than a defeat will be a bonus, a draw will not be the end of the world and it would maintain our ten point advantage over the Bairns. A win will see us handily placed to make an assault on the play-off zone in the coming weeks.
I'm going for a narrow away win, but a draw might be where the smart money is. Mon the Caley Jags