FIVE OVER PARS
This was a fixture that Inverness players and supporters alike probably anticipated with a certain amount of trepidation, realising that anything less than a win would almost certainly spell the end of the team’s involvement in the Betfred Scottish League Cup. When they look back at it at the end of the season, however, will they pinpoint it as the game where the Richie Foran revolution started in earnest?
Reflecting what was in many ways a promising performance despite the outcome of the penalty shoot-out, Caley Thistle’s starting line-up showed only one change from Saturday’s match against Dundee Utd, with Ross Draper surprisingly dropping to the bench to make way for Jake Mulraney, who occupied the wide right position with Liam Polworth moving into the centre. That meant a second consecutive start for young goalkeeper Cammy MacKay, experience that could prove invaluable with Ryan Esson approaching the end of his playing days. Dunfermline, despite an impressive win on Saturday, made two changes, Rhys McCabe replacing the apparently unwell Nat Wedderburn (sick at the prospect of facing his former team-mates?) and Lewis Spence coming in for Gavin Reilly.
The game got off to a lively start, setting the pattern for what was to follow. A slack Dunfermline back-pass on 5 minutes almost let Scott Boden in for a Caley Thistle opener, and ICT then had a claim for a penalty denied when Jake Mulraney went to ground; not the last time in the evening that he would create problems for the Dunfermline defence. A minute later it was Dunfermline’s turn to claim for a penalty as the action swung to the other end of the ground, and Dunfermline went on to force two corners in quick succession as the Inverness players struggled to withstand some sustained pressure, with Gary Warren uncharacteristically shaky, slashing wildly at a clearance.
Eventually regaining some composure, Caley Thistle began to look more threatening, with Mulraney looking to move play forward at speed whenever possible. After combining well with Mulraney down the right, David Raven fired in a dangerous near-post cross that Scott Boden failed to convert. Then, the breakthrough. A comical piece of Dunfermline defending began when a dangerous pass back from Ben Richards-Everton forced keeper David Hutton to make a hurried, shanked clearance, which landed at the feet of Iain VIGURS, who curled home a composed right foot finish from 40 yards. Thereafter, the Inverness team tried to turn the screw, with the two wingers growing in confidence, and a Billy King shot was turned round the post by a Dunfermline defender before Gary Warren was unlucky to see a diving header go narrowly wide.
On 27 minutes, Dunfermline had another shout for a penalty with the Pars players claiming that the ball had struck McNaughton’s hand. Within two minutes, however, the Fife side had their equaliser, prolific skipper Andy GEGGAN rising well to head home a dangerous cross by recent signing Kallum Higginbotham. After that, action switched more evenly from end to end, with Mulraney continuing to look threatening and drawing frequent fouls, but with the Caley Thistle central midfield at times seeming atypically hesitant and error-prone under pressure, allowing Dunfermline to create their own moments of danger.
With just minutes remaining before half-time, ICT restored their lead, thanks once again to the composure and vision of Iain Vigurs. The ever-impressive Mulraney drew yet another foul, and after a lengthy break for treatment to Lewis Spence, who had injured himself making the challenge on Mulraney, VIGURS stepped up and, having scored with his right earlier, cracked his left-footed free kick into the goal via the underside of the bar. ‘Beautiful, an absolutely fantastic free kick’, according to the BBC’s Steven Thompson.
HALF TIME: DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC 1 – 2 INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE
The second half got off to a frenetic start, with Dunfermline’s Michael Moffat threatening within 30 seconds of the restart and then Mulraney again running rings around opposing full back Jason Talbot and almost playing Vigurs in for his hat-trick. And just five minutes later, did Caley Thistle increase their lead, with another impressive goal. A sweeping, multi-passing move from the back after a spell of Pars pressure culminated in Billy KING cutting inside from the left and firing in a shot that deflected over the keeper and into the net.
To their credit, Dunfermline, who could justifiably feel aggrieved to find themselves two down, continued to press and create problems for ICT, and after seeing a third penalty appeal turned down around the hour mark, three Pars players found their way into Crawford Allan’s book due to the fury of their protests. Shortly thereafter, Ross Draper replaced the highly impressive Mulraney, and little more than five minutes later, Caley Thistle finally put the game out of Dunfermline’s reach. The scorer? Who else but VIGURS, completing the perfect hat-trick by getting his head to a Tremarco cross. Unthinkably, some ICT supporters (OK, at least one ICT supporter) had suggested on Twitter prior to the game that Vigurs, rather than Draper, should have been the player to make way for Mulraney in the starting line-up. The moral of this story is that the manager is always right. Unless it’s John Hughes last season. Or second-spell Craig Brewster.
With a three-goal deficit to overcome, Dunfermline’s heads seemed to go down for the first time in the match, and Greg Tansey found the post with a sweetly-struck shot as Caley Thistle took full control of the game. Next to threaten was Liam Polworth, having moved to wide right after the substitution of Mulraney, who received a pass from King and tried his luck with a chip that ended up just off-target. With around 10 minutes remaining, Alex Fisher replaced Scott Boden, one of ICT’s quieter players on the night, up front, and as the game drew towards a close, Richie Foran gave the travelling support the opportunity to give Iain Vigurs a well-deserved ovation, withdrawing his match-winner to allow Ali Sutherland some game time. The last piece of icing on the cake, cancelling out the superior goal difference that Dundee Utd had accrued in their win over Cowdenbeath, came in the closing minutes, when Greg Tansey crashed a free-kick off the same post that he had struck previously, and Carl TREMARCO nodded in the rebound.
FULL TIME: DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC 1 – 5 INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE
A bigger win, then, than almost any ICT supporter might dared to have predict before the match, and while the final scoreline did not perhaps reflect the balance of play in the first hour of the game, the result must be seen as a tribute to the positive attacking way in which Richie Foran has opted to set up his team this year, to the work ethic he has instilled in his players, and to the way he has recruited over the summer, with King, McNaughton and especially Mulraney all excelling again. There will inevitably be some poor results and some disappointments over the course of the season, but with performances and results like this, Foran can only add to the already considerable goodwill he already enjoys among the majority of ICT supporters, and provided the team’s standards do not drop against Arbroath on Saturday, they must now be favourites to top this group.