THE prolific Billy McKay scored both goals as Inverness continued their fine start to the new season with a comfortable win over Hearts.
Scorer: Inverness - McKay 9, 32
The visitors fielded one of their youngest teams in living memory and the gap in experience told as the Highlanders maintained a three-point lead over Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Jamie Hamill was ordered off by referee John Beaton nine minutes from the end for handling in the penalty area, although he protested strongly that McKay’s shot had hit him on the head at point-blank range. Jamie MacDonald saved the resultantant penalty to deny the Northern Irishman a hat-trick.
After scoring 27 times last year, McKay converted his fourth and fifth goals of the new campaign with the kind of accomplished finishing which has become his trademark. Inverness were 2-0 ahead by half-time and, although Hearts’ performance lacked nothing in effort, they rarely troubled the home rearguard.
There was a starting place for 17-year-old Jordan McGhee in a makeshift Hearts defence with both Danny Wilson and Kevin McHattie suspended. Within nine minutes, that back line was carved open. David Raven released Aaron Doran with a pass in behind deputy left-back Hamill, and Doran’s cross was expertly dispatched high into the net past MacDonald by McKay.
Jamie Walker’s impromptu shot across goal drifted wide in the 26th minute as Hearts tried to fashion a response in front of a passionate travelling support. However, they fell further behind shortly after. McKay fastened on to a long clearance and galloped deep into Hearts territory before releasing Doran for a shot which Scott Robinson blocked. The ball fell for James Vincent, who mishit the ball before Brad McKay tried to clear. His namesake Billy made no mistake by slotting the loose ball low into the corner of the net for his secong goal of the afternoon.
An already awkward task had become even more difficult for Hearts, with Inverness looking comfortable in defence and dangerous with every attack. The visitors were gifted a fine chance five minutes from the interval when Nick Ross and Graeme Shinnie suffered a breakdown in communication in the left-back area. Walker nipped in to fire powerfully at goal, only to see the ball rebound off goalkeeper Dean Brill’s left post.
Gary Warren headed against the Hearts crossbar from Ross Draper’s cross early in the second period as Inverness continued their superiority. They were vastly the more experienced team and it showed in the balance of play. McKay clipped a low cross by Ross narrowly wide of target and then volleyed straight at MacDonald after bringing down Foran’s ball into the penalty area.
The goalkeeper was fully stretched to push Foran’s 30-yard effort for a corner on the hour mark. Robinson’s blind backpass presented McKay with the chance for a hat-trick but he was delayed well by the outrushing MacDonald and the opportunity was lost. At that point, Inverness could have been five or six goals ahead if the truth be told.
Nine minutes from full-time, Hamill was issued a straight red card in controversial circumstances. Doran’s cross prompted a shot from Foran at the back post which MacDonald blocked. McKay volleyed the rebound off Hamill from close range but referee Beaton awarded a penalty and dismissed the Hearts player. Hamill protested and pointed to his head as he left the field to indicate where the ball had struck him.
That ensured a sour ended to an otherwise decent game in which Inverness very much showed their class.
Inverness (4-2-3-1): Brill; Raven, Warren, Meekings, Shinnie; Draper, Foran; Doran, Vincent (Greenhalgh 90), Ross; McKay (Agdestein 90). Subs: Esson, Devine, Tremarco, Williams, Polworth.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): MacDonald; McGhee, McKay, McGowan, Hamill; Tapping (Oliver 61), Robinson; Paterson, Holt, Walker (Nicholson 74); Smith (B King 55). Subs: Ridgers, A King, Beith, Buchanan.
Referee: John Beaton.