Highland clubs have played a central role in the dramas of the Scottish Premier League this season, with Inverness Caledonian Thistle appearing particularly comfortable in the limelight.
Terry Butcher's side sit second in the league table – a position they consolidated with their win over Hibernian yesterday.
A victory for Celtic in the lunchtime match with Kilmarnock had stymied any chance Inverness or their visitors had of reaching top spot but it had little effect on the hosts' focus; goals from Ross Draper, Richie Foran and Billy McKay punctuating an assured performance. They are making a habit of that, having lost just once in 11 league matches, and their rarefied position in the table will only heighten the anticipation ahead of another Highland derby with Ross County in a Scottish Cup fourth round replay on Tuesday.
The win over Hibs may not feel as weighty as getting another over their northern neighbours but it could prove to have a greater impact on their season. The Edinburgh side have followed a similar upward trajectory in the league and were flying high after a cup win over Hearts last weekend, but Inverness had little trouble bringing them back down to earth with a hefty bump.
They started early; the opener coming after just 14 minutes. Andrew Shinnie earned a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area and Draper steered a header into the corner of the net. There was a nonchalance about the goal but it allowed the hosts to exert control over the match, although it would not be until midway through the second half that they would have anything more to show for it; Gary Warren's cross forced in by Foran.
"The second goal just wasn't coming for us – but having said that we always looked like we were going to score when we attacked," said Inverness manager Terry Butcher. "I don't know what part of his body Richie scored with but he was in the right place at the right time."
The same is often said about Leigh Griffiths, but not on this occasion. There is a tendency to see Hibs but watch the on-loan Wolves striker – he has scored 13 times already after all – but he was obscured from view yesterday having shaken off the effects of an ankle knock to start in a lone striker's role. A diligent Inverness defence proved much harder to overcome, even though Josh Meekings allowed a long ball to escape into the path of the Hibs striker after 32 minutes. Antonio Reguero pulled off an acrobatic save to divert his lofted effort over the crossbar, though.
Griffiths was let down by the inability of midfielders David Wotherspoon – who scored fortuitously in last week's derby – and Paul Cairney to offer support. Ivan Sproule was a diligent presence but wasted a good opening when he spurned invitations to pass, only for possession to be taken from him forcibly by Warren. The Northern Irishman has been made to wait for his opportunity in this Hibs team and gave the impression that he was trying too hard.
The hosts were more adept and composed, with McKay getting on the end of David Raven's cross to nod in the third. "It was a sloppy goal – the smallest player on the park has scored with a header," said Hibs manager Pat Fenlon.