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Kilmarnock 2 Inverness C T 0: Cups make season seem half empty

It's kind of traditional to follow defeat in the cup with something about being able to focus on the league.

Paul Heffernan scores the first of his two goals. Picture: SNS
Paul Heffernan scores the first of his two goals. Picture: SNS

For Inverness Caledonian Thistle, there really was nowhere else to go.

This was the second tournament they had been ejected from in eight days and while defeat in the semi-final of the Scottish Communities League Cup was more emotionally damaging, this one left them with a steeper bill to pay. Josh Meekings, their centre-back, said this is still "a massive season" for the club, but a Hampden final would have given it a landmark. Now all their chips are placed on their eventual position in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. Meekings said that securing a place in the top six was their primary aim, but sixth alone would now seem a little anti-climatic.

What's more, they will try to regain traction without their captain, Richie Foran, and their best player, Andrew Shinnie. Expect more news today on the injuries that took them out of this match.

Kilmarnock deserved their victory and last season's League Cup winners have no shortage of confidence in knockout tournaments, but both Butcher and Jimmy Nicholl, the Kilmarnock assistant manager, conceded that the injuries reshaped this game. Kilmarnock lost Cillian Sheridan just before the break, but while Inverness replaced their aces with rookies, Nicholl waved on Paul Heffernan, their top goalscorer last season and his side's most accomplished finisher. He did that twice to win the match.

It leaves Kilmarnock with a quarter-final at home against Hibernian, and Inverness trying to plug the leaks before they sink down the table. "This is disappointing, but we still have a lot to play for in the league," said Meekings. "This has still been a massive season for us so far – a bad week doesn't make a bad season.

"I don't think it was that bad. The injuries were a blow in the first half but even then I thought we played well. Their first goal was lucky in the way the ball broke and from then on it was difficult for us to get the goal back."

He acknowledged the talent gap between the Inverness starters and the bench, but suggested there will be enough internal pressure on both areas to keep standards high. "Everyone knows how hard it is for this club financially, but whoever starts has to make sure he does his job for the team," added Meekings. "The lads up front I'm sure will start scoring again and then we will have the right to stay where we are in the league."

Heffernan started on the bench as Kenny Shiels, the Kilmarnock manager, decided to stick with William Gros at the top of a fluid attacking line-up. The 20-year-old French forward worked the Inverness defence relentlessly. He has been at Rugby Park for two and a half years without getting many opportunities and is determined not to give up his jersey now.

"The first part of the season I didn't start a game," he said. "Now my chance is coming and I have to take it. The gaffer has brought young players into the squad, but [Heffernan] and Cillian [Sheridan] are natural goalscorers and we learn a lot from the experienced guys like that."

Heffernan certainly gave a lesson in finishing, but it is the emergence of Gros, combined with Sheridan and Borja Perez, that gives Kilmarnock an attacking depth that will be the envy of Inverness in the weeks ahead.

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