The first Highland derby in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League was a pulsating encounter of four goals and nine bookings but ultimately it was Inverness Caledonian Thistle who came out on top, sending vanquished Ross County back home to lick their wounds.
Two days before Barcelona and Real Madrid face off in La Liga, here was El Kessocko, the city slickers from Inverness against their country cousins 14 miles across the bridge. It was an enthralling match – Inverness dominating the first half, County the better side after the break –and another positive advert for Friday night football. It wasn't quite a sell-out, but a crowd of 6756 for a match broadcast live on television was another sign that reports of Scottish football's demise may well have been exaggerated.
The victory was enough to squeeze Inverness, the league's top scorers, into the top half of the table on what was a particularly exhausting night for Terry Butcher. The Inverness manager was forced to watch from the stand as he served a one-match touchline ban and found it an awkward experience.
"I don't think the people around me were very happy as I was shouting and screaming all the time," he said. "So I apologise to them. But what a fantastic night. It was my 100th SPL game in charge here and it was a cracker. We showed people we can play. The team is improving all the time."
After a bright start to their maiden Premier League campaign, this was a third successive league defeat for County, a result that leaves them in 10th place in the table. Their second half display perhaps merited more than yet another loss and manager Derek Adams cut a frustrated figure.
"We didn't start the game particularly well," he said. "In the second half we did a lot of better but we didn't do enough to win the game. The problem we've got is we're doing well in games but we've got to start picking up a point and then look to get a win. We can't just keep saying we're playing well without getting points."
This was a first competitive meeting of the clubs since March 2010, a chance for four County players to return to familiar settings as they lined up against their former club.
For Ross Tokely and Grant Munro, in particular, it turned into something of an uncomfortable reunion. Tokely could have marked his return with an own goal after just 24 seconds – his header cannoned against the crossbar – while Munro was complicit in Inverness' second goal, allowing a pass in the build-up to roll under his foot. There was a happier return for Iain Vigurs, whose free-kick early in the second half gave County hope after they had conceded twice in the first half.
Tokely's lucky escape did little to deter Inverness who poured forward with every opportunity, looking for an early breakthrough. Munro desperately hacked an Owain Tudur Jones shot away from goal before Andrew Shinnie slid an effort just wide after being set up by the impressive Philip Roberts.
County were being cut apart at will so it was almost a surprise when the opening goal instead came from a set piece. Graeme Shinnie sent in a corner and Ross Draper escaped from the twin behemoths Tokely and Munro to head his team in front. It was frenetic stuff and only nine minutes had been played.
County, belatedly, came off the ropes and came close to drawing level with a ferocious Mark Fotheringham shot that sent the crossbar quivering. A Richard Brittain free-kick that drifted just over seemed to signal the tide was turning and so it was somewhat against the run of play that Inverness scored again. Munro failed to deal with Tudur Jones' pass out wide to Richie Foran, allowing the Irishman to hare down the wing and cross for Andrew Shinnie who converted well.
County were the better side in the second half although their possession rarely resulted in meaningful chances. Vigurs' terrific free-kick – after a contentious decision to penalise Andrew Shinnie for a tackle on Martin Scott – just three minutes after the re-start gave them hope and they continued to press for the remainder of the match. Only a smart stop from Antonio Reguero, in for the injured Ryan Esson, kept their lead intact.
County were always in danger of being picked off on the counter attack and so it proved three minutes from time. Substitute Conor Pepper provided the assist for Aaron Doran and hi's crisp volley gave Fraser no chance.
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