PAUL CHALK ON THE SCOTTISH CUP TRAIL WITH CALEY JAGS AT ALLOA
CALEY Thistle were not at their best against Alloa in Saturday’s Scottish Cup tie. However, they did just enough to win 3-2 at Recreation Park to reach the last 16. Sunday night’s draw pitched them in against Livingston as they seek to at least match the Hampden semi showdown they played last term when they were swept away by Hearts. Two more wins would return them to that stage. Sounds simple enough.
ICT boss John Robertson said after the Alloa tie he wanted a winnable tie next, first and foremost, while predicting fans (and his cash-strapped board) would prefer a glamour match, no doubt at Parkhead or Ibrox.
While Livingston won’t provide much glamour or many fans when they visit the Caledonian Stadium on February 8, they will certainly provide a stern test. I believe Gary Holt’s Lions, who are fifth in the Premiership right now, don’t receive anything close to the credit they deserve. It’s a really difficult tie, but it is winnable if Inverness hit top gear that day and the West Lothian team are off the pace.
Livingston overcame a test of their own at the weekend when they recovered from a goal down to League One leaders Raith Rovers before late goals earned them a 3-1 victory.
Caley Thistle were never behind at Alloa, but the contest never seemed to be within their control, given how well-matched these teams seem to be despite ICT beating them for a third time overall this season. The SPFL’s top clean sheet star has been ICTs number one Mark Ridgers and there have been many times he’s earned his team precious Championship points. His 11 shut-outs even betters Celtic and Rangers this term.
On Saturday, sloppy defending in front of him let their fellow Championship hosts Alloa equalise twice and it took a late Charlie Trafford winner to take John Robertson’s side through, with a replay back in Inverness this week looking most likely. It took three fine Ridgers stops to ensure ICT had the chance to win this tie, as the manager later put it – “by hook or by crook”. It was a scrappy fourth round tie, with Caley Thistle making progress harder than it should have been after Aaron Doran’s first half opener. The vice-captain, to his credit, showed signs of urgency more often than most of his team-mates, a few of whom didn’t look close to their best.
Passes failed and play didn’t flow freely but thanks to Jordan White’s goal and Trafford’s clincher on top of Doran”s fine strike took ICT into the fifth round. Alloa are bottom of the Championship, but the Caley Jags allowed them in all too easily and Robbo will no doubt read the riot act about the manner of the goals conceded.
However, backed by healthy numbers in the away stand, 2015 Scottish Cup winners ICT will be delighted to have shown their clinical edge when it was needed most. Credit to Robbo as if he can win two more ties they would be into the semis for the fourth time under his guidance. For a club like Inverness CT, that would be beyond impressive.
It is all about getting through and if your team has done so without a flourish all you can do is learn from the negatives and look to improve. Ross County would have loved to have been reflecting on a scrappy win away to a Championship side, but they crashed to a 1-0 defeat at Ayr United.
The Premiership team from Dingwall certainly expected a tough test at Somerset Park, against opposition sitting third in the Championship, albeit Ayr are far from showing any signs of consistency. However, the 2010 cup runners-up County will be hurting after losing a tie they would have been confident of winning.
County’s priority is to stay in the top-flight though and, like it or not, that’s their sole focus after this cup exit.
There was glee galore from the ICT keyboard warriors on Saturday as they taunted defender Coll Donaldson after he crossed the Kessock Bridge to join County last week and his debut was this cup defeat. However, in this day and age this kind of digital reaction is – sadly – to be expected.
A Premiership side who, like ICT, got through but with lots to improve upon were Aberdeen. With the pressure of not having won this silverware for 30 years weighing on their shoulders, it took a late Sam Cosgrove penalty to see off League One visitors Dumbarton. There were plenty of online calls for their manager Derek McInnes to be axed afterwards, but with progress achieved, even under a cloud, that is what matters the most.
Caley Thistle can shelve their cup dreams until next month and they will travel to Ayr on league duty this Saturday looking to avoid a double Highland scalp for the Honest Men within a week to ensure they at least maintain the four-point advantage they have over Ayr in second spot in the table.
* Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show is on North Highland Radio every Friday from 7pm. Listen via the station’s website, the Tune In app or through your smart speakers. You can also follow Alive and Kicking on Facebook and contact Paul direct with stories or comments for airing.