FROM HEROES TO ZERO'S:
Heroes at half-time: Zero's at the final whistle. Two up and coasting at the break, Inverness Caledonian Thistle suffered an extraordinary second half collapse and threw away their chance at a second Challenge Cup title, crashing 3-2 to Dundee.
ICT had raced into a deserved half time lead thanks to goals from Adam Rooney and Nauris Bulvitis, and probably should have been further ahead. However, the scores were level within seven second half minutes after a Bulvitis own goal and a Gary Harkins strike, and Craig Forsyth popped up late on to score the winner. In front of 8,000 fans, this author predicted that both sides would be nervous and the match would be cagey from the off. Dundee followed that script; Inverness had other ideas.
Terry Butcher had made only one change from the side which beat Airdrie United last week, with Jonny Hayes replacing Dougie Imrie. It quickly looked like a masterstroke, as the opening period might better have been known as The Jonathan Hayes Show. ICT came flying out of the traps, and dominated the early stages as their opponents looked nervous and worried. Hayes was at the centre of everything good, tormenting his full-back. He created the first chance of the match for Richie Foran, latching onto Grant Munro’s long diagonal pass and firing the ball across the face of the box. Foran, however, could only knock the ball into the side netting with the goal gaping. That spurned opportunity only served to spur Caley Thistle on. Danni Sanchez was to come even closer, smacking an Adam Rooney cutback against the crossbar. Like with Foran, he probably should have scored, but it was clear a goal was coming, and there was no surprise that Hayes was the creator; cutting in off the right flank, his inswinger cross was met by Adam Rooney’s forehead and the ball flew into the net. It was no less than ICT deserved for a blistering start. Dundee threatened on occasion, with a fabulous Munro block deflecting Sean Higgins’ header wide, but Inverness showed no interest in sitting on their lead. Bulvitis looked to have doubled the advantage when he flicked a loose ball home after Rab Douglas had dropped a corner, only for the referee to rule the Dundee keeper had been fouled. But the Latvian had the ball in the net again soon after, and this time it stood. Dundee made a hash of another set piece, and Grant Munro flicked the ball back into the danger zone for his centre-half partner to knock past Douglas from point-blank range. Dundee looked stunned, Caley were ecstatic. The hitherto quiet Harkins had a half-chance to get one back, but shot wide after Esson had flapped at a cross. As the first forty-five drew to a close, Inverness might have been even further clear. Sanchez wriggled free in midfield and played in Rooney, but his fierce shot was brilliantly blocked by Douglas’ right hand, the veteran using all his experience and size to deny the Highlanders a third goal. That save would turn out to be critical. But when the half time whistle blew, Inverness fans celebrated as if the game was won. Sadly, it turned out that most of the players were thinking along the same lines.
Half Time: Dundee 0-2 Inverness CT
It was no surprise that Dundee manager Jocky Scott fired a rocket up his underperforming side, but Terry Butcher’s words appeared to have the same effect as a heavy dose of rohypnol. Dundee made no changes at the break, but within seven minutes they were back level, and without having to break sweat. First Richie Hart got the ball on the right and, with Golabek standing off him, he whipped in a dangerous cross which Bulvitis, under pressure from Higgins, headed into his own net. Cue the familiar scenes of confusion and arguing amongst the defenders. But the warnings were not heeded, as Forsyth wandered down the right, and his shot was palmed by Esson straight to the feet of Harkins, with the former Partick man making no mistake from six yards. Inverness looked shell-shocked, and Butcher’s decision to replace Sanchez with the more defensive Lee Cox stank of shutting the door after the horse had bolted. Dundee continued to look more threatening, with Leigh Griffiths the next to pass up a chance; the forward took advantage of Ross Tokely’s failure to intercept a through ball, but Esson managed to get a hand on the ball as he attempted to round the keeper. But with little attacking threat from ICT, there was little surprise that the winner came for Dundee. With seven minutes left, Harkins turned creator – from the Dundee right flank again – and cut the ball back for Forsyth to smash into the top corner. There was no sign of a comeback, even when Butcher turned to his bench in the dying seconds to send on Eric Odhiambo and Dougie Imrie. The latter had time to make an impact of sorts; an appalling lunge from behind on Pat Clarke saw him sent off only four minutes after his arrival. Caley’s hopes of a dramatic equalizer went down the tunnel with him.
Full Time: Dundee 3-2 Inverness CT
As the Dark Blues celebrated, we were left in bewilderment as we navigated the wet A9 back North; how on earth did we manage to blow that?
The patented Hislopsoffsideagain Man Of The Match Award There were eleven candidates for this at half-time; there were considerably fewer at the end. Adam Rooney probably shades it after an energetic effort with a deserved goal, while Russell Duncan also put in a phenomenal shift and, as stated above, Jonny Hayes was greased lightning early on but faded as the match progressed.
Match report written by hislopsoffsideagain