Rovers fell to their first league defeat of the season with a muted performance away to Inverness this afternoon and continued their miserable run without a win against the Highlanders. From the off, Caley looked like the team in the ascendancy with the away side often being caught out in possession or misplacing passes. On the 20 minute mark, Regan Hendry tried to find space in the middle of the park before being robbed of the ball which prompted a surge forward from Inverness. The ball eventually found it's way to James Keatings who continued his knack of being able to score goals against the Stark's Park side.
The half ended with Miles Storey causing the defence problems with his movement and strength. Having just returned from injury, Storey was at the heart of many Caley attacks and was unfortunate not to add to his assist when his shot cannoned off the bar. At the other end, Rovers toiled as they struggled to find anything to threaten Mark Ridger's goal.
The second half saw Rovers create a few chances but ultimately they were very much second best to the hosts. It wasn't much of a surprise that they doubled their lead the match reached the 70th minute. After a well worked move, the ball found it's way to Scott Allardice who was in acres of space and the former Dundee United played slotted home to seal the win for Caley.
From there, Rovers failed to create anything meaningful to threaten the home side. They were fortunate that Jamie MacDonald had several saves to ensure the score line wasn't heavier.
Today was a difficult one for the Rovers support. The hope with a squad like ours is that you'll always have someone who can step up and deliver a moment of brilliance: today nobody really managed to achieve that and as a result the attacking movement looked sluggish and uncoordinated. On the other hand you have to give credit to Inverness for taking the chances which came along and for being so successful in pressuring our players into mistakes.
Rovers will be delighted to have a bit of a rest on the back of the game before the visit of Dunfermline. It should allow for players who haven't been at full fitness a bit of respite and might provide a chance for John McGlynn to make a gradual return to work.
I've found it quite difficult to write five things we've learned from each of the last few game so I've opted to reduce this down to three things:
Managing expectations: Today was a reality check for where we're at but it's important to remember where we're at.
Heading into the season, it was really difficult to place how well Rovers would do given they were promoted following a curtailed season. After five games this was our first defeat to an established Championship side and it was one where there was a degree of frustration on social media. A lot of the talk prior to the match there's been a lot of discussion about our fluid link up play and attacking threats. Today things didn't click for the away side: the likes of Hendry, Ross and Armstrong didn't get a chance to really threaten and Manny Duku cut a solitary figure up top.
Even when bringing on Lars Lokotsch chances were limited and Rovers never really caused many issues for Mark Ridgers in the Caley goal. Ultimately, it's a reality check for how difficult this league can be at times. Players like Keatings and Storey are veterans of the Championship and Caley have been consistently in the playoffs for the last few season. It's easy to forget that at this point last season Rovers were in third place of league one behind Airdrie and East Fife.
Games like this will act as a learning curve for what is still a relatively young team. The average age for our outfield players who started the match today was just 23 years old and many of the players are playing at this level for the first time. These players have huge potential but will still have off-days. Today was the first game in a difficult run but there's no doubt the management will analyse the game to pinpoint where improvements can be made.
Game plans: Rovers lacked a Plan B today but that isn't anything to do with the management
This afternoon was a perfect example of how tricky the football world can be depending on resources and luck. Rovers turned to both of Lars Lokotsch and Brad Spencer in an attempt to cut the deficit but still came up short. Paul Smith switched to have two out and out forwards but ultimately the attack were limited to set pieces.
It can be easy as fans to point to what changes should be made or to speculate on how improvements can be made. But it's important to remember Rovers will be coming into this league as a team with a budget which is limited compared to the top end teams. Gozie Ugwu made the bench today but Smith opted not to use him as he's returning to full fitness.
Aside from this, both Quinn Coulson and Aaron Arnott could have been brought on but both are very raw talents who will need time. In a tight game, Rovers were hamstrung but what changes could be made. The obvious omission is Lewis Vaughan who continues to struggle as he returns from his third ACL injury: a player of Vaughan's quality can make all the difference.
The two sides of the game: Caley's professionalism on the pitch is a complete contrast to off the pitch
Much like the league cup game, it was completely to Caley's credit for how they went about their win today. Robertson has clearly assembled a squad of players who are technically good players with a cutting edge. The former Hearts forward seems to have the means to get the best out of his players and ensure that they can dictate games and ensure they limit their opponents.
The first goal today was a great example of this. Regan Hendry was tracked by two players who ensured that he was immediately put under pressure. After gaining possession, the home side seemed comfortable getting players up the pitch and before the ball found it's way to James Keatings. The additions of the likes of Kennedy, Allerdice, Deas and Sutherland in the summer have meant they've added a blend of skilled young talents and experience.
This is a complete contrast to off the pitch with their streaming service. Scottish football is up against it at the best of times: the SPFL is often derided by those down south as being 'tin-pot' and unprofessional. Without meaning to come across as being bitter or sour, Caley's attempt at streaming was met with some incredulous reactions from the away fans who purchased tickets.
The opening kick off was met with the commentator screeching down his mic "And Awwaaaaaaaaayyyyy We Gooooooooooo" in reference to TV show Rick and Morty. It was an opening which set the tone for the rest of the game. Club TV services are often run by volunteers so usually I'll try to temper my criticism but it's difficult when the person describing the match seems to treat it like it's a joke. At two stages of game, Manny Duku was mistaken for Regan Hendry and Lars Lokotsch which is quite a feat given his none of them look remotely similar.
Many clubs deserve credit for how their streaming services have been set up at such short notice. This makes it really disappointing to see the SPFL's match centre was by far and away the poorest experience fans have had so far. The camera work was inconsistent and there were issues where it would go 'rogue'. Some fans also took to social media to highlight they could connect due to administrative errors and that overseas views would have to buy a month long pass to watch a solitary game.
Hopefully, the question of streaming becomes obsolete with more positive news about vaccines coming through. Ideally, we'll have fans in the ground and be able to put the whole situation behind us as we all get back into fixtures.