Caley Thistle will have bags of confidence as they prepare to lock horns with Arbroath in this week’s Premiership play-off semi-finals.
Not only have ICT won eight of their last 10 games overall, they have more than matched their opponents, despite the Red Lichties finishing as runners-up, one place and six points ahead of them.
Inverness handled last week’s quarter-finals against Partick Thistle superbly well.
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After falling behind to a Robbie Crawford goal at Firhill, they faced a fair bit of pressure, but defended stoutly turned the tie on its head with goals from Shane Sutherland and Austin Samuels for a 2-1 victory.
Samuels was the hero again on Friday when his first half strike earned them a 1-0 win to line up a semi showdown over two legs with Arbroath, starting at home on Tuesday before the return at Gayfield three nights later.
Arbroath’s story draws global appeal
Going purely on the meetings this season, Partick Thistle were set to be the tougher opponents as they were pitched at one win apiece with two draws. But they cleared that hurdle by two clear goals.
However, no one at Inverness will under-estimate Arbroath. Not at any point this season have they done so, stressing their promotion rivals are the real deal.
Arbroath’s stunning home form saw them lose only one Championship match at Gayfield – against Inverness on day one.
Visiting teams can struggle with the often windy conditions next to the North Sea.
There is not only national, but global, appeal surrounding Arbroath, which Caley Thistle will have to block out in a way.
Campbell’s part-timers aimed to simply stay in the Championship by beating the drop.
Now they are four games away from a stunning promotion to the top-flight. It’s beyond dream stuff and the locals in Arbroath are riding on the crest of a wave.
Friday will take care of itself and that’s why the Caley Jags really have to get their noses in front on Tuesday to carry a lead with them, as they had after the first leg against Partick Thistle.
In their third successive season back in the Championship, Arbroath were aiming simply to make history by being the first part-time club to retain their place at this level.
So for them to be facing ICT in the semis is credit to them. It’s sure to be two gripping games with a massive opportunity at the end of it.
Caley Thistle only Gayfield winners
Here is a reminder of how the four meetings played out between these rivals this season…
Saturday, July 31, 2021 – Arbroath 0 Caley Thistle 1 – The sun was shining and the wind was, as ever, blowing, but it was a mainly calm afternoon on the opening day of the Championship season.
Shane Sutherland netted the only goal when he took advantage of a slip-up in midfield, burst clear and guided the ball beyond goalkeeper Derek Gaston.
Arbroath threw everything at Inverness and bodies blocked shots and headers as, somehow, Billy Dodds’ team came away with an opening day victory.
It laid the foundation of a brilliant start to the season, with six straight wins, which had ICT leading the division.
McKenna stuns ICT with winner
Tuesday, October 23, 2021 – Caley Thistle 0 Arbroath 1 – The weather on a miserable night in Inverness was more in line with being on the east coast.
Shivering fans watched on as the hosts were knocked off the top of the Championship on goal difference by Kilmarnock after their home loss.
The goal came from a rare misjudgment by goalkeeper Mark Ridgers as a Michael McKenna’s free-kick, aided by the Highland gusts, caught him out and went in via the crossbar.
Afterwards, Dick Campbell insists there was no luck involved in the goal as he’d asked his players to have more pops at goal in the trying conditions.
New Year stalemate keeps hosts top
Sunday, January 2, 2022 – Arbroath 0 Caley Thistle 0 – A New Year trip to Gayfield and again the weather had its say.
The wind was powerful and, although both sides, tried to get the ball down and play, it spoiled what could have been a decent contest against two capable teams.
The goalless draw was seen by both clubs as a decent return. It made it 12 successive games without a loss for Arbroath, who were the team in first place, with ICT three points behind them at full-time.
Three-goal win ends ICT drought
Saturday, March 12, 2022 – Caley Thistle 3 Arbroath 0 – After three months, and 11 matches, without a victory the pressure was on Dodds and his players to deliver.
Hosting high-flying Arbroath looked like being a massive test for ICT.
Six draws during that bleak winter run had kept ICT within the top four, but they needed wins to stay in the promotion chase and the players certainly proved their worth.
Goals from Shane Sutherland and on-loan Norwich midfielder Reece McAlear had ICT coasting inside the first 12 minutes and the icing on the cake came when a fine Billy Mckay effort made it 3-0 in the second half.
It was a massive performance and result and Caley Thistle have been on top form since then, save for a slip-up at Queen of the South.
Comeback wins against Raith Rovers, Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle underlined their never-say-die attitude and ability.
And they might well need plenty of that to overcome a rested Arbroath, who rounded off their season on April 29 with a 3-0 win against Morton.