JOHN HUGHES will attempt this evening to do what his predecessor could not by masterminding an Inverness Caledonian Thistle win in Dingwall.
Terry Butcher achieved many things during his time as Inverness manager but beating rivals Ross County on their own patch was not one of them.
The mantle has now been passed to Hughes who will look to end a decade-long drought by leading Inverness to an El Kessocko victory away from home for the first time since August 2004. You have to go even further back to find the last time Inverness triumphed in Dingwall on league duty, goals from Richie Hart and Barry Robson sealing a 2-0 victory back in March 2003.
Since that League Cup success in 2004, Inverness have journeyed across the Kessock Bridge without success on five separate occasions. Their sixth visit last October was brought to a sudden halt at half-time when the floodlights failed inside County's Global Energy Stadium. Inverness will start tonight's rearranged fixture as favourites given their superior league position but the importance of home advantage for County should also not be downplayed.
"They tend to be special occasions, especially at our place," said Richie Brittain, the County captain. "With it being a night game as well, there is always something special about games under the lights at our place. The record we hold in Dingwall is a good one and one we want to protect. They will be coming over here trying to break that, but we're confident at our own patch against anybody. We know we can score goals and keep clean sheets, so it's a record we can hopefully keep intact."
Inverness had been similarly strong at home in the derbies, winning five on the bounce until last month when County snuck north with all three points following a 2-1 win on New Year's Day. That was Hughes' first experience of the fixture and, given the Dingwall club's transfer activity throughout the rest of January, the new Inverness manager expects County to be even harder to beat this time around.
"I have seen a lot of Ross County and the likes of Yoann Arquin and Filip Kiss are good players," said Hughes. "There is a wee bit more of a physical presence about them than earlier in the season. I would rather be where we are [in the league] than they are but all of their [January] signings have done very well. I saw Arquin when he was at Notts County and Filip Kiss when he was at Cardiff.
"Derek Adams will probably be disappointed his recruitment at the start of the season didn't quite work out. He has been fortunate enough to get the opportunity to bring in six or seven new players who have blended in well."
County, like last season, have been much improved since the turn of the year, losing only two of their eight matches since that derby triumph ended a run of six successive defeats. They are still embroiled in the scrap to avoid the relegation play-off place but head into tonight's match with renewed confidence. "It has been a long time coming to get the first derby at our place this season," added Brittain.
"The New Year victory was massive because it gave us a confidence boost we needed at the time. And I think the new players came in - it was Jordan Slew's first game and he had a great game - gave us something we hadn't had all season. We've had a blip away to Hibs but, by and large, our form from that derby has been good."
His manager, Derek Adams, adopted a similarly positive attitude as he looked ahead to another derby. "The win at Inverness over the New Year was the start of our good run," he said."We went 2-0 up early in the game and put in a good all-round team performance.
"Since then we've won four, lost two and drawn two. The new players we brought in have really started to gel now. There was no better way to get over the wee slump than going out and winning a derby."
Adams admitted County's home hex over their neighbours could prove key. "We have a good record at home and we're proud of that. You always want to do well here because you have more of a crowd at the game.
"They have good attacking players and so do we. They also have good physical presence like we do. We drew 3-3 last season, that shows just how exciting this fixture can be."