Shane Sutherland’s ice-cool finish at sun-kissed Arbroath earned Caley Thistle a 1-0 victory at Arbroath to get the new Championship season off to the perfect start.
As expected, it was a tight and tense affair, but both teams had chances all the same and ICT forward Sutherland made it count when he needed to in the second half to wrap up three points for Billy Dodds’ team.
The Red Lichties, the highest ranked part-time team in the country, have ambitions to make history by staying in the Championship for the third successive year, something which hasn’t been achieved before.
There are times under Dick Campbell when not only do this club do enough to avoid relegation, but they are just a mini-run away from making the promotion play-offs, which is a credit to them.
Seeking that winning start
Caley Thistle were only three points away from making the play-offs last year under interim boss Neil McCann and Dodds, who was added to the coaching staff, while manager John Robertson took time out for personal reasons.
Dodds is the head coach in his own right now and, after bowing out of the group stages of the Premier Sports Cup, he said this week his group are ready to get off to a strong start to the league campaign.
They went into this Gayfield contest on the back of a 1-0 defeat at Hearts last week, which showed progress from their sore 3-1 defeat at Cove Rangers in the cup.
David Carson made a return to the Inverness line-up in place of Wallace Duffy, while Scott Allardice came in for the suspended Michael Gardyne.
Calling for Billy Mckay
Billy Mckay, signed after being freed by Ross County, started the day on the bench, all set for his third spell at ICT. He came on with 12 minutes left, although the fans were calling for him before the winner.
Arbroath, who host holders St Johnstone in the League Cup on August 15, booked their tie thanks to a 3-2 win over League Two newcomers Kelty Hearts last weekend.
For the hosts, captain Thomas O’Brien was back in the line-up, as was forward Joel Nouble, with Liam Henderson and Dale Hilson dropping out of the 11.
ICT took seven points from nine in the shortened 27-fixture campaign last term, but fans still recall the 3-0 defeat here in November 2019, within a season where Arbroath won two of the three meetings.
The visitors started the better side, backed by a vocal away support, who were clearly enjoying their long-awaited day out post-lockdown.
Most of their threat was coming from down the left through Tom Walsh and he had an early effort blocked and provided a cross from Reece McAlear, who shot off target.
In between those chances, Arbroath went close through Nouble and the Angus team were lifted by that and soon finding their confidence.
Nouble then got a sight of goal with a surge down the right flank, had a shot, but pulled it just too wide left to find the net past the diving Mark Ridgers.
Sutherland almost gave ICT the breakthrough just before the break, but his close-range drive was blocked on the goal-line by Scott Stewart.
It was a real toe-to-toe contest and Arbroath were a whisker away from making it 1-0 early in the second half as Nicky Low flashed a free-kick just past the post from the edge of the box.
Sutherland wins it for ICT
Manny Duku thought he’d made the difference on 54 minutes when he headed home from the penalty spot, but he was flagged for offside from a McAlear delivery.
At the other end, Ridgers kept the scores blank when he clutched a Michael McKenna header as the midfielder met a cross from Harrison Clark.
The winner came on 65 minutes when Sutherland raced from a Clark mistake and he coolly dinked the ball over out-rushing Derek Gaston.
Arbroath threw everything at Caley Jags in the search for a leveller, but ICT stood up to that test, had luck on their side at times, and departed delighted with a hard-fought victory.
ARBROATH (4-4-2): Gaston 6, Stewart 7 (Swankie 81), Colin Hamilton 7, Little 6, O’Brien 6, Low 6, McKenna 6, Clark 6 (Craigen 78), Donnelly 6, Nouble 7, Linn 7 (Hilson 62). Subs not used: Antell (GK), Paterson, Chris Hamilton.
CALEY THISTLE (4-4-1-1): Ridgers 6, Deas 6, Devine 6, Carson 6, Sutherland 7, MacGregor 6 (Mckay 78), Walsh 7 (Harper 73), Broadfoot 6, Allardice 7, Duku 6 (Hyde 85), McAlear 6. Subs not used: Mackay (GK), Duffy, Jamieson, McDonald.
REFEREE: David Dickinson 6.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Scott Allardice.