WHEN Hamilton Academical were relegated from the top flight three years ago, they bowed out with a defeat at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
Having clawed their way back to the top division following victory in the play-offs last season, the Lanarkshire side picked up where they left off. The first match of this new season was marked by a loss at home against the Highland side.
The country has basked in the warmth of the Commonwealth Games during the past few weeks. This, though, was a reminder of the cold cruelty of the fitba'. Hamilton had waited three seasons to return to the top flight, but enjoyed their reunion yesterday for all of 10 minutes; an alarming lapse from Mickey Devlin inviting Billy McKay to latch on to a short back-pass and lift the ball into the net. It was the first goal of the new SPFL Premiership season and an early indication of just how long the campaign could feel in Lanarkshire.
Some will not need reminding. Alex Neil, now player-manager at New Douglas Park, Dougie Imrie and Ali Crawford all played the last time Inverness were in town on league duty, the culmination of a season in which Hamilton won only five times in the Premier League. This campaign need not be so unfruitful, but the yesterday afternoon's encounter showed a side which will likely take time to find their way. As if to illustrate that point, Ziggy Gordon and Danny Redmond collided with one another after chasing the same loose ball midway through the first half.
Neil said: "We started last season with a defeat at Airdrie and went on to have a successful season. But we've got to learn quickly from our mistakes."
They could not learn quickly enough yesterday as Inverness added a second 18 minutes after their first. Danny Williams strode through the middle of the home side's defence and his shot was deflected by Hamilton goalkeeper Michael McGovern only for Ryan Christie to nip in at the far post and force the ball over the line.
At 19, the Inverness forward has made 17 first-team appearances, but this may still be considered his breakthrough season. He might have broken Hamilton's resistance within the opening 10 minutes when he clipped a shot wide of a post, but he would become more easily identified by clever movement and a delight in being able to run at his opposition. One such surge forward late on brought a disguised pass to substitute Marley Watkins and a diving save from McGovern.
Comments made during the week that Christie - the son of former Inverness favourite Charlie - was as 'good as Gauld', the former Dundee United prodigy Ryan of that ilk, made for a good headline and drew attention to how highly rated the teenager is in Inverness. "He's an unbelievable player and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does this season," said Graeme Shinnie, the Inverness captain.
His progress in the senior team could also diminish any disappointment at a lack of new signings at the Highland club - Lewis Horner, an erstwhile youth player at Hibernian, was named among the substitutes yesterday after signing a contract on the eve of the match. Another summer addition, Ryan Baptie, was not in the squad.
Their new Inverness team-mates introduced themselves with a comfortable win. It was their way of welcoming Hamilton back into the top flight, too.