We actually passed the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium last weekend on the return from Dingwall. It was a reasonable journey north, though a bit on the breezy side. The ground is quite secluded, sitting on its own, just off a busy roundabout and almost underneath the very large, Kessock Bridge.
The club was formed out of an amalgamation of Inverness Caledonian and Inverness Thistle in 1994. On promotion to the SPL in 2004, the club had to play their home games at Aberdeen’s Pittodrie for the first half of the 2004/05 season, while the relevant work took place to bring the Tulloch stadium up to the required criteria.
We went for a wander round the ground, before collecting tickets from the small office outside the Main Stand, which also doubles up as the club shop. After a quick conversation with the programme seller, we then headed into the ground.
Having endured the long journey here, I then had to prioritise getting the boys fed! I was surprised to establish that the only food outlet available, is a local burger van selling very expensive fast food. I had some money on me, but forgot to lift more before setting off and left myself short, meaning the kids got but I went without. As I carry a few spare tyres, I was not likely to pass out and managed to tough it out!
Prior to kick off, a pipe band were marching round the pitch, with what I can only imagine were some local people alongside them. In amongst the parade, was none other than the home Manager, Terry Butcher! The club have had a tremendous season, almost punching above their weight. They have been in the top three league positions for most of the season, currently aiming for a Europa League place and they also reached the Semi Finals of the League Cup, losing narrowly to Hearts on penalties.
Antonio Reguero has been the first choice goalkeeper, having deposed of Ryan Esson. The defence has been solid, thanks mainly to the likes of David Raven, Chris Hogg and Josh Meekings. The Shinnie brothers are very versatile, with Graeme the more defensive player of the two and Andrew the more creative. In the midfield there are Englishman, Ross Draper and local lad, Nick Ross. In the forward positions, Inverness have three Irishmen with a bit of everything! The height, strength and experience of Richie Foran, the skill and creativity of Aaron Doran, with the work rate and goals of Billy McKay.
United boss, Jackie McNamara was able to recall Johnny Russell up front, following a couple of months laid up with a broken leg. He partnered Jon Daly and they would likely get support from the creativity of youngsters, Ryan Gauld and Gary Mackay-Steven. The centre halves for the Tangerines were John Soutar and Brian McLean.
It was clear from the start that Inverness were well up for this game and hungry to secure the three points. They forced a succession of early corners and the United defence had to block efforts from Shinnie and Foran.
Having been under the cosh for the first twelve minutes, it was United who had a great chance to open the scoring on the counter attack. Caley struggled to cope with the pace of Gary Mackay-Steven and when he cut the ball back for Stuart Armstrong, his shot was goal bound, only for Josh Meekings to block on the line.
Six minutes later it was Caley’s turn, as a McKay shot looked goal bound, only for McLean to get a touch on it, to divert the ball wide for a corner. United then broke again and following a nice run by Ryan Gauld, he played in Rankin, whose cross was headed well over by Russell. On the half hour, Caley ‘keeper, Reguero saved well from a Russell shot, having been played in by Mackay-Steven however, the Assistant had already flagged for offside.
A couple of minutes after this, it was United goalkeeper, Cierzniak who was called into action, turning a McKay shot from twenty yards out round the post. With just over ten minutes from the break, Inverness had a great chance to open the scoring from the penalty spot. Aaron Doran was fouled in the box by Rankin, with the United midfielder picking up a booking for his trouble. Top scorer, Billy McKay took responsibility, but his kick was saved by Cierzniak at his left hand post and the scores remained level.
Five minutes from half time, Andrew Shinnie had two opportunities of his own to open the scoring. His first effort went wide of the left hand post, before he hit a twenty five yard effort that cleared the crossbar. Three minutes later, Inverness eventually broke the deadlock and over the balance of play, it was more than justified. Aaron Doran received the ball at the edge of the box and his turn and low shot beat Cierzniak at his right hand post.
United nearly equalised right on the stroke of half time, when Reguero saved Daly’s powerful header, following a Ryan Dow corner. We then spent the fifteen minute interval trying to keep warm! It might be May and I was probably not appropriately dressed for a football match at this location, but good god this place is exceptionally cold! The pipe band that were out pre match were back out again, masquerading as entertainment!
Inverness came at United at the start of the second half and created two excellent chances. From a Graeme Shinnie free kick, Doran forced Cierzniak into a save, then Foran was unlucky with a shot from distance, that went just wide.
Just as you thought Inverness were going to build on their one goal advantage, United were level, five minutes after the restart. A Willo Flood free kick into the box, was partially cleared by the Caley defence, but only as far as Ryan Dow, who almost ran into the ball to volley past Reguero for the equaliser. The band of vocal United fans behind that goal, fair enjoyed the moment!
Inverness responded well, with two good opportunities before and after the hour mark. First, an Aaron Doran volley from twenty yards out dipped just over the bar, before McKay slid in at the back post following a cross from the right wing, but he was flagged for offside in any case.
A couple of minutes apart, United made two substitutions, with Mark Millar replacing Ryan Dow and Michael Gardyne on for Ryan Gauld. As the changes were announced over the tannoy system, the announcer said “coming on for United is Michael Gardyne…..I think!!!”
With less than twenty minutes left, Gardyne and Stuart Armstrong both had good chances a couple of minutes apart, with shots from distance that went just over the bar. Daly then put a header over the bar from a Flood corner, as United pressed for a winner.
Some of Inverness’ link up play was very impressive, sweeping through the midfield and always looking a threat on the counter. After some good play by Nick Ross, Aaron Doran put a shot so high over the bar, I actually think it cleared the roof! Just after that, Graeme Shinnie floated a dangerous cross into the United box, but there was nobody able to take advantage and the ball went out for a goal kick.
With just under five minutes left, United forced two corners in quick succession, with Daly again heading just wide from Flood’s second corner. I thought that would be one of the last chances of the game and decided to give in to the boys moaning to leave early! We headed to the corner of the North Stand to watch the last couple of minutes and was glad that I did not actually leave!
A sweeping United move on the right, saw Armstrong pick out Gary Mackay-Steven at the back post. The young midfielder volleyed high into the net to pretty much seal the victory, with an absolutely superb finish, worthy of winning any game and with a technique that is difficult to perfect. United were able to see out two further minutes of injury time, despite a late effort from Andrew Shinnie, which Cierzniak was equal to. The result was a big blow for Terry Butcher’s European dream, but they still have one more game left to rectify this set back.
We managed to get to the car and back on the road home quite quickly. It was a cold, but enjoyable day out overall. The people we spoke with were friendly and talkative. The ticket pricing for the North (Family) Stand was both reasonable and affordable at £16 for adults, £7 concessions. The official match programme is like an extended, glossy A4 sized team sheet, which is priced at only 50p, but comes with an option of also buying the club magazine at £2.50. Both together are very good value souvenirs.
The Main Stand runs the length of the pitch and has uncovered seating at either side of it. To the right of this and behind the goal is the North Stand, which houses the home support and is the designated Family area. Opposite this is the South Stand, which is for away fans only and both of these stands are pretty much identical.
Across from the Main Stand, is the completely vacant west side of the ground. All this has on it, is an elevated television gantry built on scaffolding and I am unsure if there has ever been temporary seating or standing in this area over the years.
Inverness have a decent team on the park to go with a modern, compact stadium. As it is quite low down, you are close to the action and provides a very good, unobscured view of the football.