Not too much to say about this game. Jonny Hayes came close early on when he hit the post with Mannus beaten and Foran had a header saved. Sandaza came to life in the second half but Inverness held out for a deserved share of the points. With Dundee United losing at Aberdeen, St Johnstone take the lead in the race for Europa football but Inverness remain in tenth spot with Dunfermline now unlikely to overhaul them after another home loss, this time against Hearts.
Full report to follow from Alternative Maryhill.
You’d think that by now, given his insistence on meeting for a liquid breakfast at some unearthly hour of the morning of every away day, Capital Caley would know what time off-licences open in Glasgow. But no. He was, by his own admission, so busy getting random customers’ phone numbers at the Park Bar the night before, that he forgot to buy his carry-out then, and as our train left before eleven the next morning, Red Card, Govan Jaggie, Martinskye and yours truly were greeted with the unusual spectacle of him trying to nurse a coffee all the way to Perth. Once in the fair city, we met up with the early stages of the stag do of CTO original and legend Bronson and headed to the 208 – still the best pre-football venue in Perth – for a couple of hours, before a last drink in a very busy Muirton Suite. Then it was upstairs and into the ground. Expectations were, it’s fair to say, pretty low.
Unsurprisingly, the travelling support was modest in size, but it gave the Caley Thistle players great backing, especially considering the disappointment of the last two results. I couldn’t make Aberdeen, but apparently the ICT supporters there were excellent, and although numbers were limited, and, to be honest, there wasn’t that much to get excited about, they continued that at Perth, singing from start to finish: several St Johnstone supporters made a point of commenting on this on forums after the game.
Eyebrows were raised among the supporters and, by all accounts, among the BBC’s radio commentators, when it became clear that Terry Butcher had opted to stick with the back four he christened ‘the defence from hell’ after last week’s performance against Hibs. If his intention was to allow the players to redeem themselves for last week’s mistakes, then it largely worked, albeit against a pretty unimaginative St Johnstone attack. It was perhaps less surprising that Gregory Tade found himself on the bench after a wasteful performance up front against Hibs, but it was still a risk to drop the team’s top scorer and go with a lone striker (Billy McKay) with only a single goal to his name. As ICT failed to score, it could be argued that this was a gamble that didn’t pay off, but it did allow Butcher to play a central three of Jones, Tansey and Foran, who collectively turned in the team’s most commanding midfield performance since the departures of Davis and Cox.
Presumably intent on atoning for Sunday’s collapse against Hibs and home defeat to St Johnstone the previous midweek, the Caley Thistle players took the game to the Saints from the first whistle. Inside the first two minutes Caley were awarded a free kick for a foul on Richie Foran then forced a corner when Hayes’ free kick was cleared by David McCracken. Shortly afterwards, Hayes came close to repeating his fluke goal of last weekend from the opposite wing, when his looping cross from the right landed on top of Alan Mannus’ net with the Saints keeper flailing. On ten minutes ICT came closer to scoring than they would at any other point in the game, when Hayes picked up the ball on the right just inside the St Johnstone half and ran at Liam Craig and Alan Maybury before cutting inside them and firing a low shot across Mannus and off the base of his far post from the edge of the box. At this stage, with Caley Thistle so dominant and the St Johnstone players appearing unable to cope with Jonny Hayes, it seemed only a matter of time before the Inverness team opened the scoring.
This, however, was not to be. Although Caley Thistle remained the better team throughout the first half and had further chances, with Mannus having to fist clear a 20-yard bending shot from Foran, then Meekings firing the ball narrowly wide from the resulting corner, the game slipped into a pattern of speculative balls and midfield skirmishes that produced little in the way of flowing football or clear goal-scoring opportunities. St Johnstone’s best chances were a Dave MacKay free kick that flew wide and a weak close range flick from Francisco Sandaza that Jonny Tuffey took comfortably. Some credit for limiting Saints to so few chances must be given to ICT’s defenders. Their commitment, however, came at a price: Roman Golobart was the first to be cautioned, in the fifteenth minute, for a foul on Cillian Sheridan, Kenny Gillet followed him into the book just ten minutes later, and by the end of the game all four of the Caley Thistle defenders had been yellow-carded, along with Greg Tansey, mostly for challenges involving either Sheridan or Sandaza. ICT’s disciplinary record this season must be as bad as it has ever been. On one hand, this could suggest that the players are fighting for every ball; on the other, it could suggest that they have struggled to impose themselves and take control of games too often.
Half Time 0-0
While some of the referee’s cautions appeared unnecessarily harsh, when it came to the biggest decision of the game, early in the second half, Kevin Clancy came down on the side of the Inverness player. St Johnstone had started the second half with far more attacking intent, and when Sandaza latched onto a long ball that caught out the ICT defence and cut in on Tuffey’s goal from the right, he looked certain to score. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, however, Roman Golobart appeared from nowhere, like Han Solo at the end of Star Wars, and nicked the ball off the toes of Vader Sandaza, shouldering the Perth striker to the ground in the process. It could have been construed as a foul – and judging by the scale of Steve Lomas’s tantrum on the touchline, he clearly felt a penalty should have been awarded – but ultimately it was shoulder-to-shoulder, and it’s hardly Golobart’s fault that he’s built like a brick shithouse and Sandaza goes over more easily than a scarecrow in a hurricane. The Caley Thistle players had their own appeal for a penalty later in the game, when Foran fell in the box under pressure from Jody Morris, but it appeared that Morris reached the ball first and Foran fell over the St Johnstone player.
St Johnstone continued to dominate for the rest of the second half, and Jonny Tuffey had to be sharp to produce reaction saves from Sandaza and Sheridan shots and to beat away a free kick from Liam Craig, but in truth, the ICT support had nothing to concern them as much as the penalty-that-wasn’t. The Inverness players’ performance throughout the second half was uninspired, if solid, but towards the end of the game they had a couple of opportunities to take all three points. Gregory Tade replaced McKay on 84 minutes, and his characteristic determination to chase every ball unsettled the St Johnstone defence and allowed the game’s momentum to swing briefly back in Caley Thistle’s favour. A corner from Tansey was met by substitute Steve Williams, showing as he did against Rangers that he is a dangerous presence from set-pieces, and when Williams’ header was headed clear, it fell to Josh Meekings, in space inside the box. It looked a great opportunity, but Meekings rushed the shot, launching it first time high over the bar. And that, apart from a Shinnie shot comfortably saved by Mannus, was that. Nil-nil; another point further ahead of Dunfermline; and another performance that satisfied in some respects while continuing to raise questions in others.
Full Time 0-0
To be honest, it feels a little like we’re just marking time until the end of the season now, and that what the ICT support is really interested in is finding out how Terry Butcher intends to plan and build for next season over the summer. There is no doubt that this has been an anticlimactic season after the seventh place finish in our first season back in the SPL; there is no doubt that some of the players brought in haven’t delivered and that the quality of performance has been patchy at best; and yet the team appears to have been unusually unfortunate with injuries, there have been some genuinely promising aspects (the form of Andrew Shinnie before his injury springs to mind) and there have been signs that some of this season’s signings (Tansey, Jones, Tade) could develop into very effective SPL players in a settled team with a little more creativity. In the meantime, let’s hope that the players use the remaining five games to show the manager that they’re worth considering for next season’s team: there are still fifteen points and places to play for, even though the top six has eluded us once more.
Match report written by tm4tj/alternative maryhill