Frustrating Highland derby no classic
THEY like these occasions raw and passionate in the Highlands and this 54th derby held nothing if not the feral qualities, commitment and desire that have characterised the fixture down the years.
Sadly for two sets of ultimately frustrated supporters, there were only occasional glimpses of quality to match it. County, still four points above their great foes, must have sent the more buoyant set of fans homeward after Alex Schalk’s late equaliser wiped out Greg Tansey’s early second-half strike.
Inverness clambered off bottom spot as a result of the point, but these remain perilous times for both northern rivals.
Never a classic, this match still pulsed with the importance of it all, the mood set by home manager Richie Foran’s pre-match call for a bit of added venom and bite. Greg Tansey’s opener looked set to give Inverness a second league win of 2017, before Schalk’s reply punctured the glee of the home crowd. Foran, though, remained upbeat.
“I tried to get more passion out of the players and I got that – more commitment, more pressing, more energy,” the Irishman said. “If we keep that never-say-die attitude and togetherness, keep working for each other, those wins will come.”
After a fairly lame showing from both sides before the break, the hosts had taken a firm control of the game for long spell in the second half. Ross Draper had quickly put his mark on the midfield area, answering home manager Foran’s call for “a little bit of nastiness” with a couple of thumping challenges. The Dingwall side suffered an early scare when, after only five minutes, Iain Vigurs’ dipping strike clipped the top of Aaron McCarey’s bar.
County responded, nine minutes before the break, with their best move of the half. Liam Boyce strung the ball wide to Jason Naismith on the right. The former St Mirren wing back’s low, hard cross veered dangerously across the sixyard box and only just evaded the reach of Dutch striker Alex Schalk.
Penalty claims from County ranks after 40 minutes came to nothing after David Raven clashed with Schalk inside the area.
Just three minutes into the second half, the hosts were ahead. Christopher Routis was careless with a completely mis-hit clearance in his own penalty area. Billy Mackay linked with Liam Polworth linked before the latter’s lay-back drew a trademark thunderbolt strike from Greg Tansey.
The 20-yard effort deflected off County defender Marcus Fraser to wrong-foot keeper McCarey on its way into the net. Tansey then saw a rasping strike from the tight angle tipped over the bar by Mc- Carey, while County passed up a glorious chance just before the hour mark. Naismith’s cross from the right picked out Craig Curran free at the back post, but the Liverpudlian striker made the poorest of contacts with the goal gaping.
It told a story that County’s first attempt on target came after 81 minutes as substitute Jim O’Brien drew a fine save from Owain Fon Williams. But to the amazement of many, never-say-die County levelled with four minutes left.
A Kenny van der Weg throwin from the left was flicked on by sub Ryan Dow. Schalk, controlling neatly with back to goal, evaded a challenge and swivelled to strike the net brilliantly from eight yards.
“I think we deserved our point,” County manager Jim McIntyre said. “We felt it was a definite penalty kick on Alex Schalk from the corner kick. It was disappointing we never got that.”
Ross County’s Alex Schalk celebrates with Ryan Dow