McInnes still in ‘love’ with his club af­ter tense High­land fling

Pit­to­drie side hold four-point ad­van­tage in race for sec­ond af­ter bat­tling to a stale­mate

The Herald - Herald Sport - - SPFL PREMIERSHIP - ALASDAIR FRASER AT CALE­DO­NIAN STA­DIUM

IN­VER­NESS CALE­DO­NIAN TH 0 ABERDEEN 0

DEREK McINNES, the Aberdeen man­ager, lamented a lack of qual­ity in the fi­nal third for his side but was still heart­ened by the man­ner in which his play­ers shook off their Scot­tish Cup dis­ap­point­ment and fought their way to a valu­able league point in In­ver­ness.

The Pit­to­drie side – who lost in a cup semi-fi­nal against St Johnstone last Sun­day – se­cured a point to move four ahead of Mother­well in the race to fin­ish sec­ond in the SPFL Pre­mier­ship ta­ble. How­ever, both sides will re­flect that they could have taken max­i­mum points given the chances cre­ated.

McInnes chose to ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tives af­ter­wards, though, and de­scribed the dis­play as the epit­ome of just why he “loves” man­ag­ing his team. “We were very com­fort­able and in con­trol for long pe­ri­ods and played some very good stuff,” said the Aberdeen man­ager.

“We cre­ated good op­por­tu­ni­ties but with some­one like [In­ver­ness Cale­do­nian This­tle striker] Billy McKay on the pitch against you, you are never en­tirely com­fort­able. The one thing that was do­ing my head in at times was our re­luc­tance to shoot. We were a bit too pre­cise.

“There are a few who need to show just a lit­tle more be­lief in them­selves at times. A lot is said about style of play at In­ver­ness, but we just get on with it and I thought we played some ter­rific stuff. A lot of people thought we would have tired legs and minds out there, but we showed what we were all about. That’s why I love man­ag­ing these boys; they came out fight­ing for ev­ery­thing.”

In a riv­et­ing, ragged spec­ta­cle, the of­ten re­li­able McKay came close to scor­ing twice from good po­si­tions, while an­other ef­fort from Greg Tansey was thwarted by a mar­vel­lous save from Jamie Lang­field at close range. Aberdeen, for their part, shook the cross­bar with a shot from Niall McGinn in the first half, while the Ir­ish­man also fired straight at goal­keeper Dean Brill late on a lively en­counter in the High­lands.

With cham­pi­ons Celtic pre­sumed to be win­ners against Mother­well be­fore a ball is kicked at Fir Park to­day, both of these sides were aware of tak­ing the chance to close in on a Euro­pean spot. With that in mind, McInnes re­called for­mer In­ver­ness winger Jonny Hayes for the first time since in­jur­ing his col­lar­bone against the High­land side in the League Cup fi­nal on March 16.

The home side were with­out the tiger­ish in­flu­ences of both cap­tain Richie Fo­ran and vice-cap­tain Graeme Shin­nie, who was serv­ing a ban. Cen­tral de­fender Gary War­ren – for­merly the cap­tain of New­port County – took the arm­band for the evening.

The de­fender urged his side on dur­ing a brisk start to the match. The home side cre­ated their first op­por­tu­nity af­ter just seven min­utes when Mar­ley Watkins’ pen­e­trat­ing burst through Pit­to­drie de­fence was stopped by a bla­tant tug from Rus­sell An­der­son. How­ever, ref­eree Bobby Mad­den played ad­van­tage and McKay glided into space to shoot, but Lang­field pushed the ef­fort past a post. An­der­son was for­tu­nate to re­ceive a telling off and not a yel­low card.

The flow of the game re­mained mostly in the favour of the home side; Carl Tre­marco clip­ping a long ball for­ward from the left-back po­si­tion, with McKay ris­ing to flick on with his head. The striker took a re­turn pass from Aaron Do­ran but fluffed his shot wide of the tar­get.

The ini­tial for­ays from Aberdeen were meek by com­par­i­son. One came from a cross by Shaleum Lo­gan but Hayes’ down­ward header was smoth­ered eas­ily by Brill.

It was only as half-time ap­proached that the vis­i­tors threat­ened with a sem­blance of men­ace. An in­trepid foray from Peter Pawlett led him though the In­ver­ness de­fender be­fore a short lay-off to McGinn in­vited the striker to send a shot against the un­der­side of the bar.

The home side re­sponded on the stroke of half-time, though, as Do­ran pre­sented McKay with an­other chance to score. Lang­field again was sharp enough to thwart the for­ward and force an­other cor­ner.

It was not long be­fore the Aberdeen goal­keeper was un­der pres­sure again – as the hosts went within a whisker of open­ing the scor­ing af­ter 52 min­utes. Do­ran sent a cor­ner over from the left for Ross Draper to bul­let a header to­wards goal. It skelped the top of the bar, and the Aberdeen sup­port breathed a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief. Lang­field’s then saved su­perbly af­ter 68 min­utes to keep the score­line level.

That all pointed to stale­mate as the match en­tered its last 15 min­utes, par­tic­u­larly when the Barry Rob­son fluffed a 25-yard free-kick woe­fully off tar­get. Then, close to the end, Willo Flood set up McGinn in front of goal, only for Brill to make a save.

A draw likely heart­ened Mother­well more than ei­ther of last night’s two com­bat­ants. “Aberdeen are a far, far big­ger club than us and we punch above our weight ev­ery year,” said John Hughes, the In­ver­ness man­ager.

“We more than matched them and it is all credit to the play­ers in the dress­ing room that we let Aberdeen know that they were in a foot­ball match.

“We played great foot­ball at times, it was just the cut­ting edge that was miss­ing. Yet there are a lot of pos­i­tives we can take from the game.”

Pic­ture: SNS

GO­ING NOWHERE FAST: Ross Draper pulls at the arm of Peter Pawlett as the Aberdeen at­tacker surges for­ward.

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