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Interval switches provide vital sparks as Caley Thistle retain second spot

Raith's Ross Matthews puts in a challenge on Manny Duku.
Raith's Ross Matthews puts in a challenge on Manny Duku.

Billy Dodds wasted no time in injecting much-required energy into his team as Caley Thistle salvaged a late 1-1 draw against Raith Rovers in the Championship.

It was a lethargic display at times, especially in the first half, as a searing shot from former Aberdeen midfielder Ethan Ross looked like earning third-placed Rovers second spot – and their first league win over ICT since 2000.

However, somehow the Highlanders found enough within themselves to stay in the game and on-loan Norwich City youngster Reece McAlear rifled home a leveller four minutes from time to secure a point. It’s a result which keeps them in second place, just ahead of Kilmarnock on goal difference.

Raith Rovers striker Jamie Gullan challenges for the ball with ICT defender Robbie Deas.

With leaders Arbroath losing 1-0 at Ayr United and Derek McInnes, in charge of Kilmarnock for the first time, enjoying a 2-0 victory at Queen of the South, there was plenty of interest in this outcome.

Managers often wait until around the hour mark before making substitutions, but Dodds needed a reaction sooner than that.

Wallace Duffy, at right-back, and midfielder David Carson, who until last week was filling that position, were taken off at the break.

Double half-time substitutions

Striker Manny Duku and 19-year-old McAlear were sent on to try and make a difference.

Duku, against his previous club, worked hard to try and support Billy Mckay and Shane Sutherland, while McAlear became the saviour when it looked like a lost cause.

Caley Thistle will have to play better, but head coach Dodds felt this was a point well-earned against a title rival, six days on from a 0-0 draw away to leaders Arbroath at windswept Gayfield.

Dodds said: “Draws can be frustrating but they can also be good draws. You want to win your home games especially but Arbroath away, in those windy conditions, then Raith at home, are good points.

“Raith are a hard nut to crack and you can understand why they are sitting third before today. They are pushing for the title. While it is disappointing not to take three points, it could be a good point.”

Raith’s opener came out of the blue

Ethon Varian’s early tame shot didn’t trouble home keeper Mark Ridgers too much, while Mckay rounded Jamie MacDonald at the other end, but his drive was knocked behind for a corner.

On 24 minutes, like a bolt from the blue, Raith Rovers thundered into the lead as Ross got the better of Wallace then steered an unstoppable 25-yarder past Ridgers, giving the goalkeeper no chance.

Raith’s Ethan Ross celebrates after opening the scoring.

It was a game worthy of winning any game and it almost did.

Mckay’s effort moments later got the 478 fans off their seats in the bitter cold, but the offside flag wiped out any chance of celebrations.

Ridgers kept out a low Ross Matthews shot before a close strike from Ross had the supporters voicing concern.

The interval changes by Dodds had fans talking, but Ethan Varian almost made it 2-0 when he swiped a close shot over the bar when he connected with a Ross cut-back.

Ross soon went off injured, replaced by new striking signing for Hibs, Jamie Gullan.

Duku was making a menace of himself and was not far off the mark when he got on the end of a cross from Tom Walsh.

McAlear strike so welcome for ICT

Raith continued to look nippy, sharp and threatening and it felt like one of those days and a fourth home loss of the season was on the cards.

However, up stepped McAlear from the right side and he arrowed a wonderful shot beyond MacDonald from easily 20 yards to spark joy and relief in equal measures from all at ICT.

Reece McAlear celebrates his equaliser for ICT.

There was still time for chances at either end as these well-matched rivals sought a last-gasp winner.

Rovers substitute Aaron Arnott and ICT’s Mckay drew saves from the keepers, but there was to be no further twists in this tale.

Duku troubled Rovers – Dodds

Dodds praised the players for showing a united desire to work together to make a difference, boosted also by the return of captain Sean Welsh who came on in the second half.

He added: “It was nice to have a stronger bench. We had to change it, but this is a squad game. There are boys here who are all in it together. I put on Manny Duku and he was trying to get behind them against his old team.

“The subs all played their parts but the squad all played their parts. We don’t have a big squad and we need all of them. They have all chipped in this season and I hope that continues.”

Inverness welcome Queen of the South to the Caledonian Stadium this coming Saturday before away trips to Dunfermline Athletic and Kilmarnock.

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.

ATTENDANCE: 478.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Ethan Varian.

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