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ANALYSIS: Caley Thistle ready and able ahead of five-game push towards promotion

Billy Mckay celebrates his goal with Caley Thistle team-mate Sean Welsh
Inverness striker Billy Mckay, right, and captain Sean Welsh will be keen to keep the winning run going at Ayr United this weekend.

Caley Thistle head to Ayr United in the Championship on Saturday determined to underline their promotion play-off credentials.

They were kicking their heels as they had no fixture at the weekend, with scheduled opponents Queen of the South losing the SPFL Trust Trophy final against Raith Rovers on Sunday.

After ending a three-month wait for a win, they have taken maximum points in different ways against Arbroath (swash-buckling), Raith Rovers (nail-biting) and Dunfermline (clinical and resolute).

Although head coach Billy Dodds and his players might well have wanted to get straight on the bus for Dumfries, any knocks and niggles will have cleared up and they will be fresh and raring to run for the Somerset Park clash.

There are even whispers, unconfirmed as yet, star midfielder Scott Allardice could be back before the end of the season. For me, his driving force and vision make him one of the best in the division in his position.

Saturday will be too soon for Allardice, but the team are looking strong throughout at the moment.

Clean sheets have boosted ICT form

Goalkeeper Cammy Mackay has been largely solid since coming in to replace Mark Ridgers, who was ruled out through illness recently.

They’re looking tighter at the back overall, with two clean sheets in the past three games a solid foundation to work from.

Full-backs Robbie Deas and David Carson are carrying out their defensive duties to a high standard, but carry an attacking threat too.

Caley Jags defender Wallace Duffy challenges Ayr United’s James Maxwell.

Kirk Broadfoot and Danny Devine have been an impressive central pairing in front of the goalkeeper and Wallace Duffy stepped up to the plate when pitched in against Dunfermline in Devine’s absence.

The deeper-lying midfield duo against the Pars were skipper Sean Welsh and on-loan Norwich City starlet Reece McAlear, the latter of whom popped up with a screaming opener.

I am sure if there is any scope to bring McAlear back to Inverness next season, possibly on a permanent deal, ICT will do all they can to make it happen. No wonder Dodds was calling for his inclusion in the Scotland under-21 squad.

Yes, he’s scored several fine goals, but he has grown in confidence, guided by experienced players such as Welsh and Broadfoot. He always wants to make things happen.

Club legend Ross Tokely, who co-commentates on ICT TV, pointed out this week that striker Shane Sutherland is looking the part now operating on the right, a position former title-winning boss Terry Butcher used him in when Tokely was a defender behind him.

He can pick passes to team-mates on his left and is well aware of the delivery needed for main forward Billy Mckay to thrive upon.

Doran deliveries leading to goals

Aaron Doran has enjoyed playing his part too, using all of his experience to great effect lately.

His in-swinging corners led to Sutherland scoring against Arbroath and Raith Rovers and his pass for Austin Samuels against the Pars was inch-perfect.

On-loan Dundee United forward Logan Chalmers scored a vital brace to win ICT three points late in Kirkcaldy last month and those goals will have lifted his confidence.

He was on the front-foot last time out and will be keen to add to his strike rate before returning to Tayside next month.

Mckay’s ice-cool finish against Arbroath a few weeks back was his 14th goal of the season and he remains the danger man for ICT’s opponents.

Samuels, a January signing from Wolves, is looking to kick his career on in the Highlands after a frustrating loan spell in Aberdeen earlier this season.

The way he took his goal in the victory against Dunfermline was superb and, like Chalmers, will be lifted by that.

Ayr were winners in last showdown

The Inverness side have issued a reminder to rivals in recent weeks and they cannot allow to slip back. It wouldn’t take much of a slide to drop out of the top four should Raith and Partick get their acts together.

ICT need no reminding at Ayr beat them last time out as Lee Bullen’s team deservedly left the Highlands with a 2-1 win in February as they battle to stay above the bottom two spots.

Inverness CT head coach Billy Dodds.

However, it’s clear Dodds and his group will also be aware of how vital three points could be ahead of ahead of a Friday night showdown on April 15 against leaders and title favourites Kilmarnock.

The Highlanders are six points behind faltering Arbroath, whose draws have severely dented their title bid.

Inverness will be in the running for second place if they leave Ayr with full points and two less play-off fixtures next month could be crucial.

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