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St Mirren 0 Inverness CT 0: Beginning and an end

SO much for not changing anything.

John Hughes may have spent the days since his appointment as Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager espousing his credentials as a continuity candidate after the departure of Terry Butcher, but his debut game in charge was marked by one notable alteration: the Highlanders did not win for the first time in six matches.

Not since their surprise defeat at the hands of Partick Thistle in mid-October had Inverness failed to emerge victorious but at no stage of the proceedings in Paisley yesterday did they look like adding to that run. Hughes, as promised, did little to alter an erstwhile winning template - the restoration of captain Richie Foran after suspension was the only obvious adjustment - but his players delivered an impotent performance that lacked their usual vim and vigour.

Perhaps too many performed a fraction below their usual level? Perhaps they were not allowed to shine by an impressive St Mirren? Or perhaps Hughes' arrival has disturbed the delicate equilibrium of the side? Regardless, it would be uncharitable to blame the new manager, not least because of his limited involvement as he entrusted the touchline duties to Duncan Shearer and left his fellow coach Scott Kellacher to take the lead in the dressing room both before and after the match. "If you can dedicate a goalless draw to anyone, it would be those two," Hughes said.

That it was not more was a disappointment, albeit that in itself is a mark of the progress Inverness have made in recent times. A sixth consecutive victory would have moved them within five points of leaders Celtic and kept the same distance clear of Dundee United in third place, but they struggled to cleave open a resolute St Mirren defence.

For the most part, they were restricted to tame shots from outside the penalty area from the likes of Aaron Doran and Ross Draper, although they did come agonisingly close as the game entered its final quarter when Marley Watkins' header kissed the outside of a post.

"I thought they dominated the first half, but I thought we were the better team in the second," Hughes said. "The players know they can play better, but I could sense in training on Friday that there would be a little bit of trepidation and anxiety in their play."

The outcome might have been even less palatable but for Dean Brill. Four times in the opening half alone, the English goalkeeper made crucial interventions, instinctively throwing out a hand to block Steven Thompson's close-range effort, pushing another fierce finish by the St Mirren striker on to a post and then clutching a header from the same player, as well as diverting Kenny McLean's wicked free-kick past an upright. From the consequent corner, Marc McAusland headed over and Conor Newton and Darren McGregor had opportunities, too, as the visitors' goal came under siege.

Although unable to replicate such pressure after the break, St Mirren continued to carry a sporadic threat. One Thompson take and burst was let down by a wild lash from an acute angle, Newton was inches away from connecting with a teasing Gary Harkins cross after Josh Meekings' slack clearance and McGregor was even closer to diverting a Kenny McLean corner over the line.

A winner proved elusive, but the draw ensured Danny Lennon's side have lost just once in their last nine matches ahead of Tuesday's William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round replay against Queen of the South. "The game petered out a bit but I still thought we looked the more likely," Lennon said. "There are plenty of positives to take because that was a big test for us and it shows how far we have come that we're a little bit disappointed."

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