Gary Warren rattles past Rab Douglas to give Inverness at 2-0 advantage inside the opening seven minutes. Picture: SNS
At the end of 90, fraught minutes, the Dundee supporters must have been thinking Thank God It's Finished. Instead of shrugging off the shackles of the working week by piling triumphantly into the local or collapsing on to the couch, more than 5000 hardy souls opted for Scottish football's latest Friday night experiment and were rewarded with a bubbling concoction of industry, incident and even the odd splash of invention.
Inverness have certainly discovered a winning formula while Dundee's frantic search for a potion that will spawn some points goes on. This was the Highlanders' third win on the spin and propelled them into third place in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, while a demoralised Dundee slithered to a fifth defeat on the trot to remain anchored to the foot of the table.
It looked like they would sink without trace last night as they found themselves 2-0 down after barely seven minutes. There was a spirited rally as the match progressed but, in the end, this was another painful exercise for Barry Smith's men.
The Dundee manager had made three changes to the side that had suffered a 3-0 reversal at Hibernian in their last outing. Brian Easton, forced to stand down with an injury, Kevin McBride and Martin Boyle were scribbled off the team sheet and Matt Lockwood, Nicky Riley and Steven Milne pencilled in.
Smith's counterpart Terry Butcher, meanwhile, had to decide who would replace the sidelined captain Richie Foran and he opted for Billy McKay over Shane Sutherland. It proved to be a canny choice as the Northern Irishman spearheaded a furious assault that left the home defenders, dazed, dumbfounded and scratching their heads like a collection of Stan Laurels trying to fathom out a tactics board.
The opening salvo was devastating. After just four minutes, Neil McGregor's attempted clearance was charged down by Aaron Doran, who raced in on goal. His effort was thwarted by the on-rushing Rab Douglas but the ball bobbled behind the goalkeeper and McKay gobbled up the leftovers to justify his inclusion. The hosts had barely time to regroup from that early blow before they were stung again. Doran hurled over a free-kick from the left which bounced through a cluster of bodies in the box and fell to Gary Warren, who stabbed the ball in at the back post.
It was fast and furious and Dundee were struggling to keep pace in a frenzied affair. The shell-shocked home side found their feet, though, and began the process of catching up. Riley should have reduced the deficit after 10 minutes only to wildly clatter a glaring opportunity wide but he made amends a couple of minutes later when his determination on the flank helped to set up a morale-boosting breakthrough. Riley battled his way in from the right and shoved the ball to Milne. His effort was partially blocked but Colin Nish was on hand to lash home the rebound.
The match continued to hurtle along at a fair old lick and, having stuttered through the early exchanges, it was Dundee who now found themselves in the fast lane as the salvage operation gathered momentum. Only the efforts of Antonio Reguero, the Spanish goalkeeper who has been standing in for Ryan Esson, prevented equality being restored. As half-time loomed, Reguero denied Jim McAllister before he leapt to his right to palm away a goal-bound Nish volley from 15 yards a few moments later.
The hosts continued to probe away valiantly after the resumption but their efforts came to nothing and the visitors eventually snuffed out any lingering hopes they may have harboured. After Ross Draper had rattled the bar on 76 minutes, Andrew Shinnie finally added a third from the penalty spot with 10 minutes remaining before McKay gilded the lily in the last knockings as he slid home a tidy finish.
"At 4-1, that looks a bit of a hammering but it wasn't that," admitted Butcher after watching his side extend their unbeaten league run to five games while taking their goal tally to 11 in their last three. "It wasn't until we got the third goal that we could breathe a little easier. The players worked their socks off. They knew what they had to do at half-time, as Dundee were coming back at us, but they dug in. They are a credit to themselves."
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