FIVE years have lapsed since Hearts won in Inverness and, in truth, they never looked like changing that statistic last night.
James Vincent’s goal early in the second half and a late strike by debutant Miles Storey secured a first win of the season for Inverness. It consigned the Edinburgh club to their second consecutive defeat, and they also finished the match with ten men.
Juwon Oshaniwa received a red card minutes from the end after clashing with Inverness substitute Tobi Sho-Silva. Referee Steven McLean saw the Nigerian raise a hand as the players jostled before a corner and sent him off for violent conduct with Sho-Silva lying on the goal line. As he trudged down the tunnel, Storey slotted home the decisive second goal to wrap up the three points.
Two weeks ago, Hearts lost for the first time this season in a bad-tempered affair at Hamilton. They had Callum Paterson sent off whilst 2-1 ahead and felt aggrieved to then lose that game 3-2. Last night, they could have no such complaints. Inverness were worthy of their victory in front of BT Sport’s cameras. Hearts toiled to create a genuine goalscoring chance having started the season hitting the net for fun.
Robbie Neilson and his players stepped off the team coach on the banks of the Moray Firth seeking to recapture winning form. That first loss had gnawed at them for a fortnight as they waited for this fixture to arrive on what was a mild Friday evening in the Highlands.
New signing Danny Swanson went straight into the starting line-up, whilst Sean McKirdy, the 17-year-old midfielder, got his first league start due Morgaro Gomis suffering a family bereavement. In the home camp, Inverness manager John Hughes granted on-loan Swindon Town forward Miles Storey a debut.
Both teams sought to patiently pass their way through the opening stages. Clear chances were non-existent, and Hearts striker Juanma incurred the wrath of home supporters by going down in the penalty box when tackled by Ross Draper. Visiting captain Alim Ozturk tried the spectacular from 35 yards in an effort to liven up proceedings but his shot looped over the Inverness crossbar.
Hughes urged his side to inject more pace into their play. From a similar distance to Ozturk, Inverness midfielder Greg Tansey struck an effort at Neil Alexander’s goal which deflected off McKirdy on its way into the goalkeeper’s arms. The tempo of the match was now increasing and play began to flow from one end to the other.
Swanson tried to have an impact by dropping deep for possession and running at the Inverness back line. Callum Paterson’s advances from right-back were also a dangerous weapon for Hearts and he got forward to deliver some useful crosses. However, he was cautioned just before half-time for blatantly bodychecking Storey as he attempted to scamper clear down the flank.
It was obvious at the interval that both teams required to assert themselves better in order to win this match. Inverness gratefully accepted that challenge and opened the scoring within four minutes of the restart. Ryan Christie, their most creative player, produced a delightful piece of skill and a mean turn of pace to evade two opponents on the left. He entered the penalty area and squared a low cross for Vincent to stroke home from five yards.
Christie signed for Celtic just last week but remains on loan at the Caledonian Stadium until the end of the season. He clearly has no intention of easing off in anticipation of a permanent move to Glasgow. As the second half progressed, he continued probing at the Hearts rearguard before being substituted on 73 minutes. On in his place was another debutant - on-loan Charlton striker Sho-Silva.
Billy King was introduced in place of Osman Sow as Hearts set about finding an equaliser. They poured forward in numbers but had to be mindful of leaving too many gaps in defence. After all, they still had to cope with Storey’s pace and Christie’s movement.
When Draper dispossessed Swanson in midfield and charged in behind the Hearts defence on 61 minutes, a second Inverness goal looked on. Swanson recovered to put in a timely sliding tackle on Draper in the act of shooting, much to his own relief. He was replaced a few minutes later when Jamie Walker took to the field. Still Hearts found it difficult to open up the well-drilled Inverness defence.
King’s left-footed effort from the edge of the penalty area flew over the crossbar. Frequently, when Hearts did venture into the final third of the field, they were crowded out. Captain David Raven had his men expertly marshalled and ready to put their bodies on the line to prevent a scoring chance. Clever fouls were also used whenever necessary.
Walker forced his way through into the penalty box on 74 minutes, but his first shot was blocked before he prodded the resultant loose ball over the goal frame. The closing stages didn’t quite bring the expected cavalry charge from Hearts and they were reduced to ten men with four minutes left. Oshaniwa and Sho-Silva clashed on the goal line and the defender raised a hand towards the face of his opponent, who then fell quite dramatically to the turf.
Alexander reacted furiously at his team-mate and referee McLean arrived to produce the red card. There was pushing and shoving involving both teams but, when play resumed, Inverness wasted no time in taking advantage. Substitute Iain Vigurs rolled a teasing cross along the Hearts six-yard line and Storey collected it at the back post. After cutting inside, he dispatched a convincing finish into the net.
Inverness CT (4-2-3-1): Williams; Raven, Devine, Meekings, Tremarco; Tansey, Draper; Vincent (Vigurs 77), Christie (Sho-Silva 73), Williams; Storey.
Unused subs: Esson, Lopez, Foran, Wedderburn, Horner.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Alexander; Paterson, Ozturk, Rossi, Oshaniwa; McKirdy (Reilly 78), Buaben; Sow (King 59), Swanson (Walker 67), Nicholson; Juanma.
Unused subs: Hamilton, Augustyn, Pallardo, McGhee.
Referee: Steven McLean.