Best outfit prevail as County finally collar Highland rivals
ROSS COUNTY’S blue match jerseys were left behind in Dingwall in a bizarre mix-up before kick-off but it was Caley Thistle who were posted missing.
Only in the closing stages did John Hughes’ men muster the kind of competitive menace they have been renowned for in this northerly meeting.
But it wasn’t enough to prevent the Dingwall team booking a place in the first League Cup semi-final in their history after goals from Jackson Irvine and Michael Gardyne.
Greg Tansey’s late reply stoked nerves for County, but manager Jim McIntyre said: “I’m thrilled. It’s been a long time coming. In four attempts we hadn’t won. It’s nice to get that monkey off our back and some of our play was fantastic – we should have scored more goals. We controlled most of it and had some real good opportunities to kill the game.”
Bizarrely there was a spot of comic confusion before the match as both sides warmed up wearing white strips, with County hastily dispatching a driver the 14 miles back to HQ to retrieve their blue kit. Once changed, County were soon in the driving seat, despite on-loan Swindon striker Miles Storey racing through early on to be thwarted smartly by County keeper Gary Woods.
Liam Boyce, County’s Northern Ireland international, swept a powerful 20-yard strike over the bar and then met a dangerous Dingwall cross with a glancing header just wide. When Martin Woods rocketed a 35-yard shot off the underside of the Caley Thistle bar, it was clear the hosts were creaking.
The breakthrough finally came four minutes before the break. Woods’ corner from the left held pace and Irvine, the Australia international, knocked a brilliant eight-yard header into the corner of the net.
Hughes’ men were in trouble again three minutes into the second period. Craig Curran’s swept pass was the catalyst for a superb bit of skill from Michael Gardyne, showing sublime control before flashing a 12-yard finish past a helpless Owain Fon Williams.
The hosts were in increasing disarray and a Fon Williams blunder allowed Gardyne a goal-bound shot only for Josh Meekings to block on the line. There was a flicker of hope for the home side after 73 minutes as Ryan Christie’s flicked effort struck the post. And it was game on 12 minutes from the end, with Greg Tansey’s strike from more than 30 yards halving the deficit. But it was too little, too late from Inverness.
Home manager John Hughes was clear on where blame lay. He said: “There was plenty of spirit and commitment, but we just lacked it in the final third.”
LETHAL TOUCH: Jackson Irvine nets the opener for Ross County