150131 county celeb 001Inverness Caledonian Thistle 1 v 1 Ross County

Glowering skies and snow flurries greeted spectator and player alike, and it’s worth noting that 57° North is a latitude that Inverness shares with Riga, Siberia, Hudsons Bay in Canada and Alaska. I’d bet that all of these places have summer football!

Mind you if that were a surprise, there were more to follow. The smart money had always been on Marley Watkins to take on the mantle of Billy Mckay, but John Hughes altered shape and tactics to suit.

150131 county esson 001Equally surprising when play got under way were Gary Warren being credited with an own goal that he didn’t score and the splendid Watkins being denied a blindingly clear penalty kick in the dying minutes. This game had incident.

The first half belonged to Inverness as they pressured County with Watkins coming close and Tansey causing all kinds of mayhem with a succession of corners that Tony Reguero found too hot to handle. Only a Woods block on the line saved County from going behind. It’s not to say they didn’t have chances as Dingwall forced a fine save from Esson. Mind you, as soon as that had happened Watkins found himself twenty yards out after Tansey had pinpointed him and he curled a sublime finish past the County keeper.

150131 county watkins 002The second half showed that County, dangerous and desperate, remain a force to be respected, although Williams nearly had them two behind in short order. As the wind got up and the snow started in earnest, they bludgeoned their way back into the game.

Their equaliser was a curious affair: a ball planted in front of Esson that Jervis, evading Warren’s desperate challenge, appeared to steer goalwards with his arm. It stood, he celebrated.

150131 county raven 001As Inverness then pressed for a winner, Tansey bringing a save from Reguero. As the game died out, Watkins found himself beyond Boyd and he was clearly clipped as he rounded the stranded Reguero. The penalty didn’t come and that, as they say was that. Both Managers were happy with a point, and John Hughes said: "All credit to Ross County, they're fighting for their lives and that showed in their performance. I'm just disappointed that we couldn't keep the back door shut after going a goal up. We could have defended their goal a little bit better, but a draw is probably a fair result."

Is Watkins the answer for Caley thistle as they adapt to life after Mckay? It’s too soon to tell, but he’s strong, he can finish, he’s creative he’ll relish the chance. His boss thinks so: "If it's Marley Watkins who takes on the mantle, then great," said Hughes. "If it's not, I'm still looking for one or two to say they can have a wee shot at that. We're also trying to bring one or two into the squad, but I'm very reluctant just to do it to make up the numbers."

There are others who will help, and Christie and Doran may find that this crucial part of the season is where they truly make their mark.

They will be needed, for next week sees the small matter of a cup tie against Partick Thistle in Glasgow. It’s a competition that is unfolding in a way that suggests that either side could progress a long way as winners of this tie. Let’s make sure it’s a highland fling in Maryhill next week!

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