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Stranraer 2 Inverness 2: Longworth makes bald contribution to tough tie

OF all the sides Stranraer would not want to take to a replay in the William Hill Scottish Cup, Inverness Caledonian Thistle must rank highly among them.

Jamie Longworth celebrates scoring in the second half to take his Stranraer side into what was a short-lived lead. Picture: SNS
Jamie Longworth celebrates scoring in the second half to take his Stranraer side into what was a short-lived lead. Picture: SNS

The journey - around five hours - is bad enough, but for the part-time journeymen of Stair Park, while midweek fixtures may mean taking a day off work, a midweek fixture in Inverness likely means two.

That backdrop made for a good finish to a mostly dull cup tie, as Steven Aitken threw on attackers to try to secure less gruelling passage. But for all that it did finish 2-2, the action only really came twice in five-minute spurts - goal, then equaliser - the rest flattered to deceive.

It was a game for the hard-hearted, a brutal, bloody cup tie played on a cut-up pitch in the swirling rain as the wind swooped in across the coast. These torrid tempests are the making of a finer sort of football fan, stiff-lipped and perhaps less inclined to stoop to cursing in salty parlance. "The cameras are here today, referee, to spot your inadequacies!" boomed an eloquent, long-haired connoisseur instead, peering down at the pitch from above his spectacles.

He and his fellows cheered first when Martin Grehan scored the first-half penalty which restored parity. Aaron Doran, who was dangerous throughout, had curled the visitors in front, but an idiotic shove from Graeme Shinnie undid the young winger's good work. "He didn't need to nudge me, but the referee was in a good position. I've never been one for taking penalties," Grehan said, with a shrug. "The boys have all got to try and get days off work [now]. My manager is good and talks about my football, asks how I'm getting on so he'll be fine to give me the day off.

"But it's harder for some of the other boys to get off or come to games after working until 12 or one o'clock. Before the game the Inverness boys will probably be sitting with their feet up watching Sky Sports. That's the joys of full-time football . . ."

Gehan was well supported by Jamie Longworth and his bag of little tricks; the playmaker often dropped deep and darted and dashed into dangerous areas. He left David Raven sprawled helplessly on the turf early on with a series of inside-out jinks.

Longworth, at a scarcely believable 26 years old, already has the sort of almighty bald patch rarely seen among tricky Scottish forwards in recent years. It is a marvellously old-fashioned barnet to behold, the type sported humbly by alm-collecting 12th-century friars, and Pat Nevin.

Longworth scored the goal that briefly drew gasps of excitement from the home fans, after Josh Meekings had a moment of dizziness, misjudging a high ball that allowed the striker to flick it beyond him and run through on goal. He took his shot early, finishing clinically, though the lead was sadly not to last, as Billy McKay found a pocket of space in the box two minutes later to equalise.

The only real positive for Inverness - apart from cup survival - was the return of talisman Richie Foran after injury. "It won't be easy to get back in the team," the Irishman warned, but you suspect that it will.

And what a perfect time to come back, too, with a cup double in sight. After Derek McInnes and Aberdeen left a bloody horse's head on top of Celtic's clean-sheet record, the tournament is suddenly wide open.

Even for Stranraer - if they can pull off victory in the north, a home tie against Dundee United awaits, and they would surely not enjoy the journey south. "We're not there to make up the numbers," warned Gehan.

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