THE distance which once separated Alan Archibald from John Hughes was measured judiciously by the lusty hoof of a football.
They will tomorrow spend 90 minutes at closer quarters as Archibald's Partick Thistle side try to extract three league points from the Highlands, profiting from an Inverness team drained by defeat in a League Cup final and a loss in Motherwell.
A meeting of the managers tomorrow will be cordial and studied. Archibald had only just arrived as a young player in Thistle's back four as Hughes was winding down at Ayr United; the defenders on opposite sides on four occasions during the 2001/02 First Division season. Archibald won three of them.
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Their relationship has still to extend beyond a football pitch and the Thistle manager would be content to relive the success of their past meetings tomorrow. "I didn't really know him as we would play on opposite ends of the pitch. I don't know who would be deeper, me or him," said Archibald with a wry smile.
His side sit lower in the SPFL Premiership but Thistle have been buoyed by a determination not to sink. Partick are ninth - two points above the relegation play-off place - and have gained traction in their bid to avoid the drop following successive wins at home. In between there has been a draw at Ross County, while Thistle also won on their last league visit to Inverness - 2-1 in October.
"That was probably our best away performance this season," said Archibald, who is able to recall Stuart Bannigan tomorrow as the midfielder has served a suspension. "I went to see Inverness the other night and they played some good stuff. I know they lost 2-0 [against Motherwell] but it is just not happening for them in front of goal. That is the difference - when you get your noses in front it makes it a helluva lot easier."
A few bob more in the budget can also make life more comfortable for a manager. It is a subject which has come into focus for Derek Adams as the work to redevelop County's home stadium is completed. The Global Energy Arena has had work done to reduce the risk of a power failure similar to that which forced a Highland derby to be postponed last year.
With those developments now completed, Adams - whose side face Motherwell tomorrow - is hopeful that more money will be made available for player recruitment. "We can't keep on working to what I'm working to just now. We just can't. It's a really difficult task," said the County manager, whose side are two points above the play-off position. "I work with a reduced backroom staff and with very limited resources. It is really hard working in the top division with the constraints I am under. We can't keep going on with the budgetary restraints we have."