Caley Thistle were last season’s Championship draw specialists. They are determined to avoid that tag again.
Inverness drew 14 of their 36 games last season and finished 15 points behind eventual title winners Ross County. Margins are tight in divisions as competitive as this.
Sean Welsh’s penalty settled Saturday’s encounter with Dunfermline, a game in truth that neither side could have complained about drawing. Blustery conditions did not help matters but the fare on offer would have left most supporters feeling short-changed.
Ultimately, rather than see another mark in the D column, the Inverness men’s persistence paid off and Welsh’s impact earned them a win they will happily take.
“We had 14 draws like that last season and part of our plan to be more competitive this season was to turn draws into wins,” said manager John Robertson. “That’s the classic example. No team deserved more than a point but we managed to snatch a victory.
“It had 0-0 written all over it. Both teams’ defences and midfields worked extremely hard. There wasn’t any real clear-cut chances and I don’t think either goalkeeper had to make a telling save.
“It was similar to the game last year, where Dunfermline won it with a deflection. I didn’t really see where the breakthrough was coming from. It was an obvious penalty, where Welshy kept his cool and stuck it away.”
Robertson, back in the dugout after stepping aside for the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup win over Morton, rang the changes. Seven players came in from after that 3-1 triumph, with only Shaun Rooney, Coll Donaldson, Aaron Doran and Miles Storey keeping their places.
After their goal-laden previous two encounters, more of the same against a team bottom of the league would have gone down a treat but the first half was a festival of obduracy. Neither side gained any sort of foothold or developed a rhythm in the game – their willingness to play high balls, despite the swirling overhead conditions, producing more niggly tussles than meaningful chances.
Storey started alongside Jordan White but was moved out wide midway through the first half.
His influence on the game waned the longer he was attached to the right flank as all the play continued to go through White and Tom Walsh, who was now playing behind the lone striker.
Given a glancing Carl Tremarco header was all Pars goalkeeper Cammy Gill had to deal with in the opening period, the plan was not working.
Doran was repeatedly getting space behind the Dunfermline defence but was continually halted by the offside flag, while Rooney’s ability to put himself in harm’s way, wittingly or unwittingly, denied Lewis McMann a goal.
🎙️ICTFC's Sean Welsh gave his thoughts following yesterday's 1-0 win against Dunfermline at East End Park as he scored the winner from the penalty spot. pic.twitter.com/DCqSDwgCKT
— Official ICTFC (@ICTFC) September 15, 2019
The game was flatlining. Inspiration had very much gone with the wind, as even five-yard passes became complex puzzles to both teams. Late substitutions – Josh Coley for Dunfermline and Roddy MacGregor for the Caley Jags – injected some life into the game but Gill and Mark Ridgers still had precious little to do between the posts.
It took the intervention of Danny Devine, who had been on the park fewer than 10 minutes, to give the game its decisive moment. Against the side he won the Scottish Cup with four years ago and with former team-mate James Vincent lurking, Devine handled a Donaldson free-kick launched into the box. Welsh, who had come on with half-an-hour to go, did his duty from the spot, placing it down the middle past Gill.
“Sean’s been knocking on the door for a while,” said Robertson. “What we’ve got to be careful of is his fitness has to be right. He’s not one of these lads you can put in the team, give him a couple of games, then take him out again. When he goes in the team, he stays in the team.
“It’s important he gets more game time. He got his first 90 against Morton last week and got a good 35 minutes on Saturday.
“He’s now pushing to play but to be fair to (David) Carson and (James) Vincent, they’ve done well.
“We want him 100% fit so when he’s in the team he’s going to take some shifting.”
Crawford rues paying penalty
Dunfermline boss Stevie Crawford was disappointed his side were on the receiving end of a late penalty in their defeat by Caley Thistle.
The 1-0 loss makes it no wins from their first five games for the Pars, leaving them level on points with Partick at the foot of the table. They were undone by Danny Devine’s late handball, awarded by referee Nick Walsh, with Sean Welsh tucking away the penalty.
They have now lost three league games on the bounce and four in total, with the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup defeat to Alloa Athletic.
Their last win came against East Kilbride in the Betfred Cup in July.
Crawford said: “We’ve had some really hard penalty decisions that we’ve had to accept this year. The Inverness players are always going to want the penalty kick but it’s a sore one for us.
“We’re going through a wee spell just now where confidence has taken a hit. We had more crosses into the box that we’ve been working on that didn’t come to anything. We’ve had plenty of set-plays that we have to turn into goals as well.
“The second half was a 50-50 game and we’re bitterly disappointed to lose to a late penalty.”
Supporter’s view: Final script proves an East End enigma
Quite how Caley Thistle came away from East End Park with three points on Saturday is a mystery.
If you look at all the statistics it looked like a good day for the Pars until you come to the one stat that matters – the final score.
The end result of a game is the only thing of any consequence and it really doesn’t matter in the slightest how much possession you had, how many corners you won or free kicks you conceded. Indeed, it seems to be a much admired quality in football these days to win games when you’re not playing well.
However, Caley Thistle can be pleased at coming away with a clean sheet and plugging away until an opportunity came their way in the form of a penalty, which Sean Welsh put away very nicely.
The win keeps Inverness within touching distance of the top with Dundee United losing at Somerset Park. That was a good win for Ayr who are doing better than I had anticipated. After also losing in the Challenge Cup the previous weekend, one starts to wonder if this is just a slight blip for the Tangerines or the start of something more serious.
Dunfermline fans will start to wonder if it could be a long hard season. After Falkirk’s relegation, I guess nobody can assume they will be safe in this league. Arbroath and Alloa will fight extremely hard to stay in the Championship and could well be successful. It is going to be a very interesting season at both ends of the table.