Caley Thistle produced a fine Friday night performance to deservedly gain their first victory of the season.
It has taken Inverness nine competitive matches, and they had to show patience against the Jambos. However, the Highlanders were well worthy of their triumph, with second-half goals from James Vincent and debutant Miles Storey proving the difference.
The first-half was a stuffy affair, but in truth the hosts were never seriously threatened by the Edinburgh outfit, with goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams untested. To compound a miserable night for Robbie Neilson’s side, defender Juwon Oshaniwa was red carded four minutes from time.
Caley Jags manager John Hughes rang the changes. Attacker Storey, on loan from Swindon Town, was handed his debut, while Vincent and Josh Meekings returned from injury, with Dani Lopez, Iain Vigurs and the suspended Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo dropping out. Another new signing, on loan Charlton Athletic youngster Tobi Sho-Silva, was on the bench.
The Jambos came into the match having been defeated in their last outing, going down 3-2 against Hamilton Accies, a mere blip in an otherwise impressive return to the top-flight. Hearts also made changes to their side, handing a debut to new signing Danny Swanson and a first league start to 17-year-old midfielder Sean McKirdy.
Inverness made a bright start, enjoying some neat spells of possession without applying any early pressure on Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander’s goal.
Hearts appealed for a penalty on 17 minutes, when attacker Juanma went to ground inside the box with Ross Draper at close quarters. The Spaniard had been accused of diving by St Johnstone defender Brad Mckay earlier in the season, and Draper’s immediate reaction to referee Steven McLean was of a similar ilk, with contact minimal at best.
Chances at both ends were at a premium, with Hearts left back Oshaniwa drilling a low 20-yard strike wide of Owain Fon Williams’ right hand post after 33 minutes. A similar opportunity fell to Caley Thistle’s Danny Williams at the other end, but he dragged his shot harmlessly wide.
Meekings had to be alert to cut out a dangerous Callum Paterson cross for a Jambos corner moments later, however the first-half was sorely lacking in inventive spark. Although Storey was bereft of goalmouth action, his performance give rise to plenty promise, as he showed no shortage of neat touches, drawing the first yellow card of the game with an excellent flick past Callum Paterson which led to the full back wiping him out.
On several occasions last season Inverness had to show patience before the breaks came their way, and their first-half performance looked reminiscent of that, with no lack of fine build up play, albeit little to show for it.
That all changed just four minutes into the second-half though. The goal was engineered by Ryan Christie, playing his first game since being loaned back following his move to Celtic, as he showed fine skill to take the ball past Paterson. Once he got to the byline he pulled the ball into the middle, with Vincent showing great hunger to nip in front of the Hearts defence and sidefoot the ball into the net. The midfielder picked up from where he left off, in his first appearance since netting the winner in May’s Scottish Cup final win against Falkirk.
The goal was Caley Jags’ first goal at Caledonian Stadium this season, and it clearly enthused the home support. The sense of relief to the players was also palpable, bringing out a freedom in the Highlanders’ play.
Inverness spurned a wonderful opportunity to double their advantage on 62 minutes. Among the unlikeliest of goal threats, Draper, who has not found the net since March last year, waltzed past Swanson to go clean through on goal, but he frustratingly mis-hit his shot into the grateful arms of Alexander.
Hughes made his first switch of the evening on 73 minutes, introducing Sho-Silva for his first taste of Scottish football in place of Christie, and within moments of coming on he sent a close-range header narrowly over from Storey’s cross.
With four minutes left, Hearts were reduced to 10 men when Oshaniwa appeared to take a swing at Sho-Silva at a corner, which was spotted by referee McLean.
Inverness made the advantage count on 89 minutes, when the ball came through to Storey at the far post, and he cut inside his marker before rifling an excellent shot low into the far corner to seal the points.