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Motherwell 0 Inverness 2: Two top sixes: Half-a-dozen good men and a realistic goal

SUCCESS in football can often be built on the most basic of principles such as fielding the same players in the same positions most weeks, keeping them together for a couple of years and affording them the time and space to get to know one another's strengths and weaknesses.

Fraser Kerr skips past Josh Meekings, but Motherwell would rarely trouble their visitors. Picture: SNS
Fraser Kerr skips past Josh Meekings, but Motherwell would rarely trouble their visitors. Picture: SNS

In the straitened world of the SPFL, though, it is not quite that simple. What would Stuart McCall, the Motherwell manager, for example, have given for the luxury of maintaining the same squad for successive campaigns and allowing them to develop together?

Outwith an opportunistic effort from Lionel Ainsworth early in the first half, which Gary Warren had to head off the goal-line, the home side offered next to nothing. Inverness Caledonian Thistle controlled affairs throughout and looked sharper, more dangerous and better organised on the way to a 2-0 win earned by goals from Greg Tansey and substitute Aaron Doran.

It is from their organisation, in particular, that they are deriving such strength right now. The four-man defence of David Raven, Josh Meekings, Warren and Graeme Shinnie is entering its third season together and looking more cohesive all the time. Three clean sheets in three games tells its own tale.

Of course, those players are given extra protection by Ross Draper and Greg Tansey in front of them in midfield. Draper is an underrated performer with a couple of campaigns in Scotland now under his belt while Tansey seems to be settling back into life in the Highlands with considerable ease following a couple of years away at Stevenage.

There have to be concerns over what Inverness will have left up front should their only senior striker, Billy McKay, leave before the end of the month, but they are going to be incredibly difficult to break down as long as those six good men and true continue to play beside one another regularly.

Inverness complain they are forgotten about thanks to their geographical location. Those gripes have foundation, but they should be thankful that scouts have not taken greater interest in their players, permitting them to become such a well-functioning unit. John Hughes can do something special with this team this year and it will be a test of his managerial capabilities following a disappointing conclusion to last term that brought three wins in the closing 15 fixtures.

"The majority of players here are still the same and that's a big, big plus," said Draper. "Other clubs get a lot of players going out and coming in and it's hard to get consistency, but that's not a problem with us. Josh and Gaz [Warren], for example, have been brilliant at the back.

"They never stop talking and you always know what's going on behind you. There is a great understanding between the lads. The two midfielders sit in and hold and we cover them if they get caught out of position. [That] was probably the most dominant I've seen us in the two years I've been here. We've set the standard."

Motherwell hardly managed to get far enough up the park to ask them any serious questions. Tansey put the visitors ahead with a lovely low drive three minutes before the interval and we had to wait until the 89th minute before Doran, on for Danny Williams, put McCall's men out of their misery with a delightful curling finish.

The likes of Henrik Ojamaa, anonymous after being introduced at half-time, may make the most of his temporary return from Legia Warsaw when he sharpens up. Stevie Hammell is out injured and Mark O'Brien, on loan from Derby County, has yet to make his debut, but it is hard to shake the feeling that simply finishing in the top six would be a decent achievement this term.

"People have opinions, but we have managed to overcome opinions for the last few years," stated their captain, Keith Lasley. "Other clubs can invest more than us and we have key injuries that are costing us right now. It does get harder and harder, but we know we can compete a lot better than we did on Saturday."

The Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan, watched this match from the directors' box along with the former Labour Party spin doctor Alistair Campbell, and Draper is clear about which players from the Inverness side Strachan should monitor.

"Nobby and Shinbone," he said, referring to Ryan Christie and Shinnie. "He chose the right game to come to. They will have caught his eye and I would suggest he gives them a go."

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