THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN
IT was a hellish day for the players to play in as the downpours hosed into Inverness. However, Caley Thistle’s 2-0 victory in the Scottish Championship’s 2nd v 3rd showdown against Ayr United on Saturday had ICT fans singing in the rain. After successive 3-0 defeats by Dundee United and Arbroath put John Robertson’s team on the brink of falling out of the top four.
It was a soul-searching fortnight at the Caledonian Stadium but three straight wins without the concession of a goal have shot the Highlanders four points ahead of Ayr and within seven points of leaders Dundee United.
The Tangerines also have a game in hand and have clearly recovered from three quick-fire defeats away from Tayside to leave their rivals eating dust.
Their 2-1 home win over Alloa at Tannadice came after losing the first goal and, like the previous week’s 3-0 victory against Queen of the South, didn’t involve lethal marksman Lawrence Shankland getting on the scoresheet. They are winning without the need for his goals.
For Caley Thistle, their mini surge back up the table began with a gutsy 1-0 win at home to Dundee, then they impressed in a 2-0 success at Alloa, a venue Dundee United slipped up at.
On Saturday, they followed that up with that priceless 2-0 win over Ayr, thanks to Jordan White’s clinical first half opener and man-of-the-match Miles Storey’s searing run and shot, which should have been stopped by keeper Ross Doohan.
Ayr have played a game less than Inverness and knew had they won here on the back of a 1-0 midweek defeat by Dunfermline they would have returned to second spot at the expense of their Highland hosts.
That’s why perhaps they travelled to the area on Friday to prepare by using the Highland Football Academy in Dingwall.
Precise, professional preparation from player/manager Mark Kerr, but his charges failed to fire, although they did improve in the second half without getting the better of the Caley Jags, who defended like demons.
‘Why does it always rain on me?’ by Travis would have summed up the Honest Men’s mood as they trudged off the sodden pitch at full-time.
Caley Thistle were walking on sunshine, on the inside at least.
The result saw Ayr slip to fourth in the table, with Dunfermline, who beat Morton 3-1, now the closest side to Caley Thistle, four points behind with both having played 16 times.
After Ayr, Dundee and Arbroath are fifth and sixth respectively after their 1-1 Gayfield draw, with the part-time Red Litchies having a game in hand.
That will be played at Ayr on Tuesday, the same night Caley Thistle seek a positive result for Morton against Dundee United in their rearranged fixture.
If United win then even the most optimistic Caley Thistle fan, coach or player would struggle to think that a 10-point gap could be bridged with around half the season now done, despite their insistence that the history books show double digit leads can be hoovered up.
Morton were thrashed 6-0 at Tannadice in late September, but the Ton are hot at Cappielow, so much so all of their 16 points have been earned there.
Robbo spoke before the Ayr game about how there really is no margin for error and how they need to look solely at winning their next match – and hope for another Dundee United dip.
It was another deserved victory for ICT against Ayr, but as their manager stressed they cannot take the heat off in their pursuit of United for one moment.
The Inverness team were the best away side in the Championship last season and they hold that position again on the back of their win at Alloa.
This Saturday, they go to Partick Thistle, whose 2-1 comeback win at Queen of the South finally took them off the foot of the division.
The Glasgow Jags have the worst home results in the Championship this term, while ICT have the best away form, but only another strong belief-filled display at the top of their game will be good enough for them to depart from Firhill with three points on board.
The following week Caley Thistle welcome Dunfermline Athletic to their home. The Pars, from nowhere, have strung three wins on the spin together to take third position.
They owe Partick Thistle a defeat too. Just days after Ian McCall came in from Ayr as their new boss two-and-a-half months ago, they won 3-1 in Inverness.
Call it revenge or not, victory at Firhill would be sweet as Caley Thistle cannot take their eyes off the prize for a moment.
Highland no match for Division One leaders
HIGHLAND had every reason to travel to Lanarkshire with hope of pulling off a victory against Biggar which would have made them genuine title contenders in rugby’s National Division One.
The leaders won National Division Two last season and Highland joined them as the promoted runners-up.
Five points was the gap on Saturday morning after Highland recovered from a sore away defeat at Melrose last month by beating Stirling Wolves and Cartha Queens Park to become the main chasers.
The Inverness team have inflicted the only league defeat on Biggar in mid-September and that gave them the belief that they could get the victory to haul them right on to Biggar’s coat-tails.
By all accounts, the 31-0 defeat which puts them 10 points off the pace having played one fixture more was in line with the margin of performance in horrendous windy and rainy conditions.
Indeed Highland Rugby Club’s own Twitter account admitted their opponents were ‘Biggar and better’.
Like Caley Thistle in the Scottish Championship, Highland need the pace-setters to lose their footing now, while themselves being faultless from now on.
Next up for Davie Carson’s men is Saturday’s daunting trip to Gala, who are menacingly just two places below them, although they did lose at Cartha Queens Park at the weekend.
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