The Championship’s bottom two sides in the past fortnight have halted Caley Thistle’s chase of gutsy leaders Arbroath.
Saturday’s 1-1 draw for Inverness at Dunfermline Athletic came seven days after a 2-2 draw with Queen of the South, who slipped one point adrift of the Fifers on the back of this result.
ICT led in both games and those four points alone are the difference from the Highlanders going to Kilmarnock this coming weekend top of the table.
Inverness head coach Billy Dodds was naturally frustrated by ICT’s fourth successive draw, this one against the team who began the day bottom of the pack.
Pars get lift-off from bottom spot
John Hughes’ side had come off the back of a fine 1-0 win over Hamilton and their draw here at East End Park made it five points from three games against the Caley Jags.
Shane Sutherland’s fine strike late in the first half, from a Reece McAlear cut-back gave Inverness a deserved lead, but an improved second 45 minutes from the Pars justified a level outcome.
Dodds defended his men stoutly at the end, arguing that sitting three points, or one win away, from the summit going into late January is reason to to proud. It is, of course. And, in fact, they have only lost once in the league away from home.
However, their last win came on December 11 when they dished out a 6-1 doing to Morton and draws are halting their title charge.
They are not alone by any means and the other championship contenders, Arbroath, Kilmarnock, Raith Rovers and Partick have all shed points they will feel they should not have.
Dodds later praised the Fifers for battling back into the contest and earning their result with a ruthless penalty finish by recent capture Steven Lawless after David Carson’s hand stopped Dan Pybus’ cross reaching the penalty area.
Inverness, who last week learned star midfielder Scott Allardice is to be out for months with a knee injury, were also without 12-goal forward Billy Mckay and Roddy MacGregor for their East End Park clash.
An injury to defender Danny Devine in the first half also saw him take to crutches, although the extent or nature is too early to tell.
Loan signings make ICT debuts
Inverness were boosted by the loan signings of Bristol City’s Sam Pearson and Dundee United’s Logan Chalmers, both forward-minded players. They came on in the second half and will be useful additions, without a doubt.
The first half ebbed and flowed, but mainly it was the side at the top end of the table on the front foot.
Former Raith Rovers forward Manny Duku was a menace against his former Fife rivals and a few crosses caused tension for Dunfermline.
Duku was not far off on 21 minutes as he robbed Lewis Martin of possession and burst forward, but his effort had not enough bite to truly trouble former ICT keeper Owain Fon Williams.
At the other end, Mark Ridgers dealt with a low cross from Aaron Comrie, which came on the back of a fine, sweeping move.
There was plenty of effort and meaty challenges all over the pitch, but the deadlock was broken six minutes before half-time in favour of the visitors.
Impressive on-loan Norwich City midfielder McAlear nicked the ball off Paul Allan and his pin-point ball into the box was guided home in style by Sutherland for his sixth goal of the season.
Dunfermline put on the pressure
The second half was restarted almost eight minutes later than scheduled, with referee Steven Reid taking a while to reappear.
However, Dunfermline were swift out the blocks in the second half and substitute Kevin O’Hara was denied by Ridgers after Lewis McCann headed it into his path.
The hosts kept pressing and O’Hara was unable to connect with a cross which had too much height from Josh Edwards.
Ex-Inverness defender Coll Donaldson, on loan from Ross County until the end of the season, was also not far off with a flick at the near post and ICT cleared the danger.
Chalmers and Pearson were pitched into the action as the Caley Jags sought a killer second goal, but it was Dunfermline, who found the net with a penalty on 80 minutes.
Late penalty blow for Caley Thistle
The ball was played out wide left to Dan Pybus and his cross struck right-back David Carson on the hand.
Reid pointed to the spot and Lawless crashed home the spot-kick, sending Ridgers the wrong way.
Dunfermline pushed for a winner, but ICT defended stoutly and ensured there would be no further damage.
HOW THEY LINED UP
DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC (4-3-3) – Fon Williams 6, Comrie 6, Edwards 6, Donaldson 6, Dow 6 (Dorrans 63), McCann 6, Pybus 6, Allan 6 (O’Hara 46), Lawless 6, Todd 6 (Cole 63), Martin 6. Subs not used: Mehmet (GK), Macdonald, Todorov, Jones
CALEY THISTLE (4-4-1-1) – Ridgers 6, Harper 6 (Pearson 72), Welsh 6, Deas 6, Devine (Duffy 46), Carson 6, Sutherland 6, Walsh 6, Broadfoot 6, Duku 6 (Chalmers 67), McAlear 7. Subs not used: MacKay (GK), Jamieson, Hyde, Nicolson.
REFEREE – Steven Reid.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Reece McAlear.