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Great expectations prove a burden as Butcher's waifs and strays come of age

We need not delve too far into the past to recognise that a win for Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Aberdeen would have prompted the use of the word "shock" in the following day's headlines.

Inverness were worthy winners at Pittodrie
Inverness were worthy winners at Pittodrie

Terry Butcher and his team from the Highland capital are, though, the latest in a long line of clubs from various divisions to come, see and conquer at Pittodrie and leave behind disgruntled home fans, puzzled that, when the big opportunity arrives, their team invariably allows it to slip away.

Football managers will never disclose the budgets they have at their disposal. It's a no-go area for prying journalists keen to make comparisons over whether Ross County have more money to hand than St Mirren, or St Johnstone less than Kilmarnock. Even so, anyone suggesting that the finances assigned to Aberdeen's playing personnel would be immeasurably greater than those of Inverness would be on safe ground.

Such a factor cannot, of course, account for the quality of performance, nor the vagaries of football that frequently haunt managers and dent their aspirations, such as the reality of the Pittodrie side being without the services of 10 players because of injury and therefore capitulating rather easily to Butcher's team on Tuesday night.

Such mitigation is unlikely to wash with supporters, disappointed that the chance of edging to the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League was squandered. Instead, it's Inverness – after one defeat in 13 – who look down from their loftier perch, a group of players largely recruited from football's equivalent of Poundland, but with a steel and resilience to match their skills.

So, the Aberdeen supporters might be forgiven for asking: if Butcher can secure a formidable performer such as Richie Foran and unearth talents with the quality of Gary Warren, Owain Tudur Jones, Andrew Shinne and Billy McKay, all released by clubs on both sides of the border, why are we, with a £1m centre-back, a couple of Northern Ireland internationalists, a striker capped by New Zealand and a winger who departed Inverness for richer pickings at Pittodrie, unable to beat them when it matters? Is there a better, more positive attitude, a greater togetherness at Inverness, instigated by the sheer force of Butcher's personality?

McKay, who scored two of the visitors' three goals on Tuesday and was described by his manager as a border collie of a footballer because of the amount of running he does during a game, did not demur from that assessment yesterday. "We have a great bunch of lads," he explained. "You saw the character against Aberdeen. We went 2-1 down but nobody's head went down and we just carried on with our jobs. We had plenty of chances to win the game and we have done that all season. I think with the squad of players we have and the character and ability we have, I think we can definitely keep winning games."

In contrast, Craig Brown has conceded that Celtic will win the title, regardless of how tight the league is at present. The view, while almost certainly correct, is not one those in red and white scarves wish to hear from their leader.

The manager, too, has expressed confusion that the large numbers of fans who follow the club away from home are more vociferous than those who attend games at Pittodrie, forgetting, perhaps, that many of them are from the corporate sector and that the main stand is liberally sprinkled with people from the professions, not renowned for flag-waving or community singing.

That observation may be underscored by the statistics that Aberdeen have won just two of their eight home games this season, though Josh Magennis did his best to arrive at a reason for such ineptitude. "It just seems to be when we play away and there is no pressure on us, we perform," said the scorer of Aberdeen's two goals on Tuesday. "But when there is a bit of expectation on us and a chance to go top of the league, it doesn't go for us. It is so frustrating as a player as well as for the fans.

"Certainly Archie [Knox, the assistant manager] and the gaffer made it known to us that if we want to be taken seriously as a top-four team, we have got to be beating teams. No disrespect to Inverness, but we should be beating teams like that even though they are near the top of the league."

Butcher and his disciples would rightly retort: "Why should you be beating us? Just because you're Aberdeen?"

Saturday brings other challenges for both sides. The men from the Highland capital, already into the semi-final of the Scottish Communities League Cup, go to Dingwall to face Ross County in the fourth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup as the Premier League's top scorers. Aberdeen, who surrendered to St Mirren in the last round of the League Cup, will have to contend with Motherwell at a venue where they are decidedly uncomfortable: Pittodrie.

A repetition of Tuesday night's debacle will bring retribution from their supporters, who will turn their backs once more on failure.

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