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Reece McAlear strikes late as Caley Thistle hold Raith Rovers to stay second in Championship

Reece McAlear celebrates his equaliser for ICT.
Reece McAlear celebrates his equaliser for ICT.

Caley Thistle struck late to earn 1-1 home draw with Raith Rovers, which kept them second in the Championship.

Billy Dodds’ Highlanders looked off the pace, unable to provide any real threat in front of goal until late drama earned them a share of the spoils.

A cracker of a strike from Ethan Ross midway through the first half had Raith on track for their first win in this fixture for more than 20 years.

However, sub Reece McAlear fired a superb leveller into the net to keep ICT in second spot, now within two points of first place.

With pace-setters Arbroath losing 1-0 at Ayr United and Derek McInnes guiding Kilmarnock to a 2-0 victory at Queen of the South, ICT just kept ahead of their chasers, only goal difference putting them ahead of Killie.

These sides went into this contest in front of nearly 500 permitted fans on the back of goalless draws last Sunday to get the New Year started.

Arbroath and Inverness CT and Raith and derby rivals Dunfermline couldn’t find the net as the day ended as it began.

Long-standing record in ICT’s favour

John McGlynn’s Rovers knocked Inverness out of the SPFL Trust Trophy on penalties at the quarter-final stage in November.

However, the Fifers’ last league win over Caley Thistle came away back in October 2000, which was 19 league games ago.

The hosts have been on a decent run to stay in the title chase, with just one loss in their last eight matches overall.

Fans in attendance at ICT v Raith, which had a Scottish Government cap of 500.

Raith had won just one of their last five games and hit the net just once in six outings, but arrived with a point to prove.

Ross thunderbolt puts Rovers ahead

There was only one change for Inverness from last week as Cameron Harper replaced Aaron Doran, who is out with a thigh injury.

McGlynn made two changes to his line-up, with Frankie Musonda and Christophe Berra in for Tom Lang and Matej Poplatnik.

Rovers signed Hibs striker Jamie Gullan on a two-and-a-half-year deal on Thursday. He began the afternoon on the bench.

Raith asked the first question as Ethon Varian’s tame shot was gathered by Mark Ridgers after Ross had his effort blocked on the edge of the box.

ICT took a little longer to threaten, but Billy Mckay came close when he was put into the box by Robbie Deas, he rounded Jamie MacDonald, but his drive was knocked wide for a corner.

Then, out of the blue, the visitors stormed into the lead with a wonder strike.

Former Aberdeen midfielder Ross picked the ball up fully 25 yards out and guided a searing shot beyond Ridgers into the net.

It looked as if Caley Thistle had replied moments later, but the offside flag ruled out Mckay’s ‘goal’.

A fine stop by Ridgers was required on 36 minutes when he dived to touch a low Ross Matthews’ shot the other side of the post.

The fans were growing more inpatient two minutes later when Ross flashed another effort wide of goal as Raith sought a killer second strike.

Raith’s Ross Matthews skips past Inverness’ defender Wallace Duffy.

Dodds made two interval switches, with Reece McAlear and Manny Duku on for Wallace Duffy and David Carson respectively.

Yet, Raith almost swiftly doubled their advantage when Ross’s run down the right had ICT on ropes, but his cut-back was swept over the bar by Varian.

Just after the hour mark, Duku was in a decent area in the box, but his drive was off target as he met a cross from Walsh.

With four minutes left, McAlear used space wisely 25 yards out before lashing a low stinger beyond MacDonald into the net. Sighs of relief all round.

Subs Aaron Arnott almost nicked it for Raith, but Ridgers was equal to it in stoppage time.

Next Saturday, ICT welcome Queen of the South to the Caledonian Stadium, while Rovers return to Kirkcaldy to play Arbroath.

CALEY THISTLE (4-4-2): Ridgers 6, Duffy 5 (McAlear 46), Harper 5, Deas 6, Devine 6, Carson 5 (Duku 46), Mckay 6, Sutherland 5, Walsh 5, Broadfoot 6, Allardice 6 (Welsh 74). Subs not used: Esson (GK), MacGregor, Jamieson, Nicolson.

RAITH ROVERS (4-3-3): MacDonald 6, Tumilty 6, Dick 6, Musonda 6, Berra 6, Benedictus 6, Matthews 7, Stanton 6, Varian 7 (Poplatnik 78), Williamson 6 (Arnott 84), Ross 7 (Gullan 51). Subs not used: Thomson (GK), Connolly, Zanatta, Lang.

REFEREE: Don Robertson.


MAN OF THE MATCH: Ethan Varian.