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Stroke of luck favours Caley Thistle as Tom Walsh winner maintains perfect start

Tom Walsh (right) celebrates his fortunate goal.
Tom Walsh (right) celebrates his fortunate goal.

Caley Thistle edged past Covid-hit Ayr United 1-0 in the Scottish Championship thanks to a winning goal which Tom Walsh knew little about.

The winger scored in fortunate circumstances against the club he was with last season to make it three victories from three for the Highlanders to keep them level top with Kilmarnock, who they face next week.

A hat-trick of 1-0 league wins has ICT ticking along just nicely under head coach Billy Dodds.

The visitors confirmed they had several positive cases in the camp and they had three changes from the team which took Dundee United all the way before losing on penalties in the Premier Sports Cup last weekend.

Manny Duku (right) competes with Michael Hewitt.

Whether that put them off their stride is hard to say, but there were competitive enough, without having the killer touch.

The Honest Men arrived at the Caledonian Stadium having not won here since January 2003.

That said, seven of the 11 games since then had ended level, including both matches at this venue last term. The 2-2 draw at the end of the season ensured Ayr stayed in the division.

Ayr United’s Joe Chalmers (right) competes with ICT’s Scott Allardice.

ICT went into this contest level at the summit with Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock after season-opening 1-0 victories over Arbroath and Raith Rovers.

Billy Dodds’ team were idle last weekend due to being out of the Premier Sports Cup.

Ayr pushed Dundee United in cup

For Ayr, they took Premiership all the way to penalties in the cup after an impressive 1-0 draw over 180 minutes.

Their first two league games had brought them just one point, with that coming from a 2-2 draw with Arbroath after responding from 2-0 down.

The match-winner against Raith, Roddy MacGregor, was rewarded with a starting spot in place of Reece McAlear, who dropped to the bench.

Covid cases affect visitors Ayr

The visitors made three changes from a week ago. In came goalkeeper Charlie Albinson, skipper Sean McGinty and ex-ICT midfielder Joe Chalmers. News of the positive Covid cases were confirmed in the build-up to kick-off.

The first chance was created by MacGregor as his pointed pass from one side to the other picked out Michael Garydne with a little luck and the former Ross County man lashed the ball into the side-netting.

Moments later, Manny Duku drew a save from Albinson after clever build-up play from Shane Sutherland and Michael Gardyne. It was a positive opening spell from ICT.

An encouraging period from Ayr followed, without anything clear-cut and Inverness defending well.

ICT on top in the first half

A clever corner almost led to an opener for Caley Thistle on 27 minutes. Walsh played a one-two with Gardyne, fed the ball to Sutherland and the striker steered a 20-yarder over the bar.

Full-back Robbie Deas’ diving header finished just past the post from another Walsh corner before Ayr’s Jordan Houston was not far off with a low drive from a counter-attack.

On the stroke of half-time, a fine run and cut inside the box from MacGregor saw him tap the ball across the face of goal for Walsh, whose effort seemed to strike a hand, but the appeals were not enough to convince referee Kevin Clancy.

Walsh gets lucky to make difference

The breakthrough came eight minutes after the restart for ICT.

Sutherland, not for the first time, whipped the ball on to Duku and his cross was knocked into the net after McGinty’s clearance smashed off Walsh and beat Albinson.

Ayr United’s Aaron Muirhead (right) competes with Scott Allardice.

Ayr responded well though and Chalmers’ angled shot was pulled too far right to hit the target as they began to ask ICT questions.

Whether Walsh should have gained full credit for the goal remained a talking point, but he almost sealed the victory when through, but his drive flew wide of the left post.

It didn’t matter how they got the win, they got it and it’s three successive clean sheets into the bargain.

The two perfect starters Kilmarnock and ICT go head at Rugby Park next weekend, while Ayr host Raith Rovers.

CALEY THISTLE (4-4-2): Ridgers 6, Deas 6, Devine 6, Gardyne 7, Carson 6, Sutherland 6 (Welsh 78), MacGregor 7, Walsh 6 (Doran 84), Broadfoot 6, Allardice 6, Duku 7 (Mckay 68). Subs not used: Mackay (GK), Harper, Jamieson.

AYR UNITED (4-1-3-2): Albinson 6, Houston 7, Muirhead 7, McGinty 6, Murdoch 6 (Salkeld 81), Adeloye 6, Baird 6, Chalmers 6 (O’Connor 75), Hewitt 6 (Afolabi 65), McKenzie 6, Fjortoft 6. Subs not used: Mateusz Miller (GK), Moffat, Miller, Ecrepoint.

Referee: Kevin Clancy.

Attendance: 2032.

Man of the match: Manny Duku.

Ayr United fans made themselves heard throughout the match.