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Caley Thistle head coach Billy Dodds relishing early leaders’ showdown with Kilmarnock

Inverness CT head coach Billy Dodds.
Inverness CT head coach Billy Dodds.

We’re only three games into the Championship season and Billy Dodds is already calling the next one a big one.

The Caley Thistle head coach will take the Highlanders to equal leaders Kilmarnock on Saturday knowing that they can leave Rugby Park as the early front-runners.

Even a draw against Tommy Wright’s title favourites would keep them level top after the first four matches.

Saturday’s 1-0 win at home to Ayr United was richly earned and followed exact same results against Arbroath and Raith Rovers.

Inverness CT striker Shane Sutherland (left) competes with Markus Fjortoft.

Ayr arrived in Inverness having not won there since 2003 and their cause wasn’t helped by three positive Covid-19 cases and one player self-isolating.

This maybe upset them after taking Dundee United all the way to penalties before losing out in the Premier Sports Cup the week before.

The goal which won it had more than a slice of luck as Manny Duku’s cross was meant to be cleared by Sean McGinty. Instead, it hit Tom Walsh and flew past goalkeeper Charlie Albinson.

Tom Walsh (right) celebrates his goal.

It came eight minutes into the second half and was all that split the teams, but the victory was deserved and keeps the mood high at the Caledonian Stadium.

Second half lift after interval chat

Dodds explained a half-time pep talk helped his players lift it enough to go on and get the clincher as Walsh netted the first goal since rejoining from Ayr in the summer.

Dodds said: “Every part of our team, maybe apart from the first half when we never really held the ball up, was impressive.

“I had a word with the boys and in the second half they carried out what I wanted. They were much better and had a couple of chances to try and kill off the game.

“I will take 1-0 wins every week because our defence looked solid again and the midfield helped them and the strikers are doing their part.”

Momentum key after latest 1-0 win

Killie, relegated via the play-offs in May, kept their noses in front at the top of the table thanks to a superb 2-0 win at fellow Premiership drop-outs Hamilton.

Dodds is already licking his lips at the prospect of taking on the joint-leaders on their own patch.

Michael Gardyne (left) and Manny Duku at the final whistle.

He added: “It’s all about momentum. It’s a huge thing and we have got that right now. We have set ourselves up for going down to Kilmarnock, which will be a right good game. It is one I and the players are very much looking forward to.

“Kilmarnock will also be looking forward to it and, even this early in the season, it’s a big game. If the players give me what they gave me today and in the first couple of league games then we’ll do fine.”

MacGregor shows further promise

The only change made by Dodds was to bring in young Roddy MacGregor, whose wonder goal two weeks previously sunk Raith Rovers.

He was involved as soon as three minutes, lining up Michael Gardyne for a shot into the side-netting.

Roddy MacGregor (right) competes with Joe Chalmers.

Albinson saved from energetic Duku before Shane Sutherland shot over the top after Walsh and Gardyne linked up from a corner.

A flying header from Robbie Deas was not far off the mark before Ayr’s first real chance of note saw Jordan Houston flash a low drive wide.

Ayr were tidy and had plenty of the ball in and around the home box, but there was no killer moment when it mattered.

Delighted Walsh claims goal

The goal that did count came on 53 minutes after Sutherland’s delicious long pass found the boot of Duku and the forward’s delivery led to McGinty striking the ball off Walsh and into the net. Walsh afterwards insisted the goal was his and said his celebrations showed that.

ICT match-winner Tom Walsh at full-time.

Partick Thistle’s winning start to the season was halted by a 3-1 defeat at Arbroath, leaving Killie and ICT to square up as joint leaders and all connected with the Caley Jags cannot wait.

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 6.

Attendance: 2032.

Man of the match: Manny Duku.

Ayr United manager David Hopkin.

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