Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2 v 0 St Johnstone
Let’s start with the number that everyone was interested in as the match finished – 3161. On a cold Tuesday night in mid-January, those who answered the call superbly to Caley Thistle’s “pay what you can” deal were rewarded with a warming display that will surely mean that those who responded will be back again and again. Inverness produced a quite masterful display of the type of football that John Hughes demands which left the Perth saints increasingly ragged and frustrated long before the end.
It might have been a difficult night for Caley Thistle, missing the suspended David Raven and Greg Tansey. Arguably two of the team’s finest performers this season, Tansey is especially crucial to passing and recycling everything through the midfield.
Struggle? Not a bit of it. Danny Williams and Nick Ross came and not so much grabbed the chance but throttled it. "We played some wonderful football tonight and maybe on another night we might have scored another couple of goals, but I'll settle for keeping a clean sheet and scoring two" said John Hughes and he was in every respect right.
Ross glided through the midfield, making the difficult look easy and the easier look sublime. Some of the pass and go plays that Inverness now specialise in left St Johnstone floundering and it was no surprise when Billy Mckay opened the scoring on 34 minutes after being fed by Graeme Shinnie. Six yards out, the resurgent Mckay simply doesn’t miss those chances.
Unaffected by the media chatter of his possible departure to pastures new, Mckay simply looks as delighted with his latest goal as he did with his first for the club. He has recovered from what was by his standards a quiet start to the season, possibly slightly jaded after a summer of almost continuous football with Northern Ireland. Whisper it, he’s back to his best.
Within six minutes of Mckay’s goal, Inverness were two to the good . Carl Tremarco swept a gorgeous cross beyond the diving Mannus and Watkins connected to put a gloss on the half time score for the home side.
The second half, if lacking in more goals, was simply a procession for Inverness. With possession at over 60%, they reduced St. Johnstone to chasing shadows and occasionally bringing them down as the four yellow cards show.
It increasingly became little more than a training session, as Hughes was able to relax in the stand and enjoy what he was watching; “We've been playing like that most of the season. We can't get it every week but the most important thing is we've prepared the game very well, we've trained very well. Then it's putting that into action, and that's why I'm up above to see us playing with our heads. I think that was evident.” It was certainly evident in the cameo debut of Alasdair Sutherland after 88 minutes, the replacement for Mckay oh so nearly made it three when he was foiled by the excellent Mannus.
If there is a postscript to this game, it is that Caledonian Thistle are making inroads into engaging with the people in the community who swither about going week in, week out. They are reaching out and embracing the City with a team that, on all of the evidence will make it proud this year. It might even make it historically proud. Consider this. With their closest rivals engaged in League Cup business, beating Hamilton and Ross County could just about see Inverness go into February at the top of the Premiership. Just think about that, and then think of a single reason why you wouldn’t want to be part of it.
See you for the derby.