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Hearts 0 Inverness CT 2: It's a win for Hughes away, oh boy, as he just lets it be

IT would take time for John Hughes to reveal himself on Saturday.

Callum Paterson challenges for the ball in the Inverness penalty area on Saturday. Picture: SNS
Callum Paterson challenges for the ball in the Inverness penalty area on Saturday. Picture: SNS

Inverness Caledonian Thistle had won comfortably about half an hour earlier and Hughes was on his way out of the media room inside Tynecastle when he paused to let a smile flash across his face. It grew just wide enough to allow a moment of broad humour to pass through. "You know, son, the last time I saw a suit like that, one of The Beatles was wearing it . . ."

That was a throwaway line at the expense of someone who had caught his eye, but one which would say much more about Hughes than he has so far during his time as manager of Inverness. The 49-year-old had never been averse to imposing his own daft sense of humour on others during previous spells in charge of Falkirk and Hibernian, so much so that he has seemed gagged in the Highlands, his side still to feel as though it is his team. It was a message which Hughes seemed to deliver inadvertently afterwards when he credited Terry Butcher, the erstwhile Inverness manager, for coaching "the values and the fundamentals" necessary for the side to remain second in the SPFL Premiership.

Butcher's influence on Inverness had been absolute and so it was not likely to wear off overnight, although it has still seemed as if the Englishman had left a note for his successor telling him that everything had been left just so, so don't touch anything, for God's sake. Hughes would resolve to make his first discernible alterations to Inverness during the victory against Hearts but these substitutions came after 87 minutes and in stoppage time, respectively - too late to impact on the match.

Hughes' first league victory since his appointment can perhaps be considered a simple matter of routine, then, one which his side was well in the habit of before he arrived. Inverness retain a four-point gap over Dundee United in the table and also showed off their fifth consecutive clean sheet as Hearts were hung out to dry, a place in the fifth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup having also been attained during that time. It is tempting to assume such impetus will need to suffer an interruption for Hughes to join in properly.

The loss of the goals scored by Billy McKay might offer that intrusion, with the Inverness striker having now butted in with 15 for the season. The Northern Irishman is under contract until the end of next season and has found distinction in the Highlands, but his scoring record - he reached 27 by the end of the last campaign - will also have made him stand out to other clubs. Goalscorers are a commodity and cannot be hidden long.

"You give him a half chance and he puts it in the back of the net," said Richie Foran, the Inverness forward. "That's why we all love him. You can see how confident he is going into games and even if we aren't doing well, Billy can pull something out the hat. I am sure every other team in the league would love a player like Billy."

That desire is forlorn at Hearts. Callum Paterson started in attack at the weekend but cannot be relied on to trouble defences consistently, while Ryan Stevenson has been ruled out for six weeks through injury and Jamie Walker could now join him on the sidelines after an Achilles problem forced the winger off at half-time. It is an injury which has crippled the creativity of a team which was struggling to walk already, since the campaign is now midway through December and Hearts have yet to reach zero points in the league.

They are likely to pass Christmas without breaking even either, with a trip to Celtic Park to come on Saturday. It was only this month that the champions turned up and gave the Edinburgh side a bit of a kicking. "Last time wasn't great, you know," said Callum Tapping, the Hearts midfielder, of the 7-0 Scottish Cup defeat. "But you saw [on Saturday] that we defended very well and Billy McKay got two opportunities and scored both. It was only his quality that got them the three points."

That is as weak a defence as his side offered at Tynecastle in the cup given Celtic's own aptitude in front of goal in domestic competitions.

Bullishness is perhaps all that Hearts have left to believe in, though. "We think 100 per cent that we can stay up," added Tapping. "The quality is there."

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