THAT familiar tannoy message declaring that Billy Mckay "scores when he wants" had been conspicuous by its silence lately in Inverness.
In fact, for John Hughes' side, the wait for any such announcement had stretched to a staggering nine hours and 14 minutes before joy arrived yesterday.
Mckay, of course, can't magically produce the goods any time he wants, despite giving a good impression of it at times earlier this season. The 21-goal striker had lately been short on quality service but delivered yesterday in his team's hour of need. This timely victory over Partick Thistle not only restored the beaten League Cup finalists to winning ways but kept alive European ambitions in the race with Aberdeen and Motherwell.
Loading article content
Mckay also delivered a first home win in the league for John Hughes since he succeeded Terry Butcher in November, while breaking his own five-game mini-drought in front of goal.
"It's good for Billy to get back on the scoresheet after the final and missing a penalty," said Russell Latapy, the Caley Thistle assistant manager. "Having missed a few in my time, I know better than most how that feels. So it is good that he is back on the scoresheet and he has won us the three points. Billy's job is to stick the ball in the net and if he is doing well then it usually means the team is succeeding too.
"After the week we've had that was what we needed. We've had some decent performances recently without getting a victory, so we had to get back to winning ways."
Latapy's demeanour held obvious relief, but this was a game that could have gone awry for Hughes' men in the first half.
Dean Brill, the home goalkeeper, performed brilliantly before the break, with three telling saves against a fluid, sparky and inventive Partick.Six corners to Caley Thistle's one underlined Partick's first half threat, although Caley Thistle had their moments. With six minutes on the clock, Danny Williams' ball across from the left was dummied by James Vincent and Billy Mckay.
It rolled into the path of Ross Draper just outside the box, but the big midfielder failed to catch his strike properly. Lyle Taylor, always sharp and tough to pin down for Partick, drew the first of three very good first half saves by Dean Brill after 12 minutes.
Despite a blustery wind and bumpy, sanded surface, it was open, entertaining stuff, with the Maryhill Jags particularly impressive.
Brill had be strong again after 28 minutes as Taylor again weaved into space and hammered in a vicious attempt which the keeper pushed away for a corner.
Five minutes later, Taylor's ingenuity again troubled the hosts and the on-loan Sheffield United man saw another fierce strike parried by Brill. But as the second half opened, Caley Thistle took a strong grip on the game, pegging Partick back into their own half. Mckay's flick after 54 minutes sent Greg Tansey through for a brilliant scoring chance, but the midfielder's touch over the keeper's head nestled on the roof of the net.
The screw was turning for the hosts, but Mckay was clutching his head in disbelief just before the hour. Again it was Tansey who wound into space, releasing the club top scorer to the left of the box. Mckay skewed a hurried effort high and wide.
Aaron Taylor-Sinclair had the ball in the net for Partick moments later only to be flagged offside, but Mckay's opener after 62 minutes delighted the home crowd. This time the great Caley Thistle predator made no mistake as Draper headed Graeme Shinnie's free kick across goal and Mckay angled a header past the flailing Paul Gallacher.
The relief was palpable in the Inverness camp and suddenly there was real spring in their step and they never looked back.
Away manager Alan Archibald was left puzzled by what he saw as a missed opportunity. "We didn't turn up in the second half," he said.
But if they play with the same bold intent of the first half at home to champions-elect Celtic on Wednesday, the Maryhill public will have a game on their hands.