Fine margins prevail as lowly Wasps sting Caley Jags again

THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN

caley
Caley Thistle kept Alloa under pressure in a match which yielded only a frustrating draw.

CALEY Thistle were an inch away from beating Alloa on Saturday and they had to settle for a 1-1 draw at the Caledonian Stadium. A fruitless first half saw the Highlanders fail to get any chances from their second-bottom visitors, who led through an Iain Flannigan penalty. Jordan White’s second half leveller at least salvaged the point.

Twice now Alloa have drawn in Inverness this season, while Arbroath and Partick have scored two wins each over ICT.

To be fair, Alloa and Arbroath have beaten runaway leaders Dundee United this season, but the difference is the Tangerines’ overall consistency has blown every other team away.

Dick Campbell’s Arbroath won 1-0 at Tannadice on Saturday to break the champions-elect unbeaten home league record this term. They also beat them on their home patch on penalties to knock them out of the Betfred Cup in September.

They’re now level with fourth-placed Dunfermline and will fancy their chances of becoming promotion play-off contenders, a position no one could have expected. They are part-time and were the League One champions last April.

No team was likely to catch Dundee United this term and, even after the weekend’s results, they are a whopping 17 points clear of the Caley Jags.

However, fine margins matter massively, be it with White’s late chance off the bar or when slipping up all too often in games they should be good enough to win.

Although they were never at the races in a bid to catch United, results such as the one on Saturday have opened the door to Ayr, Dunfermline, Arbroath and Dundee, the latter of which are only now six adrift of them.

Wins instead of losses against the division’s lesser lights have cost them their chance of putting one hand on that runners-up position.

And their next Championship fixture is away to Dundee United on February 21, four days before a trip to Dunfermline.

Before that, they switch their attention to cup matters.

On Saturday in the fifth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup, they host one of the Premiership’s teams of the season given their meagre resources in comparison to their rivals. 

Livingston are fifth following a 1-0 weekend win over Motherwell and, make no mistake, a Caley Thistle win over the Lions would be one of their most notable results for many years.

They follow that on February 16 with a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup semi-final home showdown with Rangers Colts. The winners will tackle Raith Rovers or Partick Thistle in the final.

League points cannot be added to for a few weeks, so Caley Thistle must throw all their efforts into cup progression.

The transfer window shut with the loss of central defenders Coll Donaldson and Jamie McCart to Ross County and St Johnstone respectively, but they will be delighted to have retained Shaun Rooney – for now at least.

Reports suggest the rampaging full-back has agreed a pre-contract with St Johnstone and perhaps the reason ICT were able to repel a third defender leaving for cash in January was they banked a five-figure windfall for their former winger Jake Mulraney moving from Hearts to Atlanta United. A smart contract clause indeed from the Inverness club.

Rooney has a few wayward moments in matches, but he gives Caley Thistle energy in attack at times when a spark seems lacking. Added to the signing of defender Lewis Toshney, the pair could play pivotal roles in the closing months of a season with so much still to aim for.

Figures to fear after latest Ross County loss

ACROSS the Kessock Bridge, alarm bells are ringing for Ross County.

Despite the Ladbrokes Premiership showing that they are ninth, four points above the bottom two positions, their form is beyond concerning.

They lost, as expected, last week away to Celtic then Rangers, but by all accounts they showed plenty of positive signs.

So, to round off a trio of away fixtures within seven days away to struggling Kilmarnock would have given the Dingwall club hope of turning around their fortunes.

Killie kicked off only one point ahead of them, yet apart from a 6-0 rout of Queens Park in the Scottish Cup, they had lost the seven games around that bright spot, with their last league win coming in a 3-0 stroll against Hearts in November.

County beat Hibs and Kilmarnock back to back in December and it’s just as well they did because the 17 matches either side of those have been winless, with more defeats than draws.

I have the greatest of respect for co-managers Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson, but should they lose at home to mightily impressive fifth-placed Livingston on Wednesday then the pressure will be cranked up to levels they’ve not dealt with yet.

The novice head coaches deserve immense credit for seeing off the formidable force of Dundee United to win last year’s Championship, but something’s clearly not clicking in Dingwall and that has to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Games run out fast once February has arrived.

  • Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show is on North Highland Radio every Friday from 7pm. Caley Thistle, Ross County, the Highland League, rugby and shinty are just some of the topics covered.

Follow Alive and Kicking on Facebook for the latest content news and to get in touch. When Paul is on air, email studio@northhighlandradio.co.uk to have your views aired. Listen via the North Highland Radio website, the Tune In app or through your smart speakers.

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