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Paul Chalk: Gayfield mayhem was repeat of Caley Thistle’s 2014 League Cup semi-final nine-man triumph

Graeme Shinnie celebrates Nick Ross's goal in Caley Thistle's League Cup semi-final win over Hearts in 2014.
Graeme Shinnie celebrates Nick Ross's goal in Caley Thistle's League Cup semi-final win over Hearts in 2014.

Bodies on the turf and tears in the stands and on the sidelines.

Football at its most raw, and somehow Caley Thistle have reached the Premiership play-0ff final against the odds, via a penalty shoot-out

In the hour-or-so before, with Inverness down to 10, nine, even eight men at one stage, and the place in mayhem, it was easy to question how the visitors at Arbroath were going to come through and make it to extra-time.

Once they bravely limped into that final half an hour with 10 men, before Wallace Duffy was shown a red card, you thought surely Arbroath would find a way through?

Inverness players celebrate after Kirk Broadfoot scores the winning penalty at Arbroath on Friday night.

But no. Caley Thistle found a way to win, despite all of the adversity.

Referee Willie Collum stole the limelight live on TV by sending off defender Danny Devine for a ‘last-man’ challenge in the second half then opting to send off full-back Duffy for a second bookable offence, which baffled everyone.

Striker Shane Sutherland had been stretchered off with an injury in the closing 10 minutes of normal time and, with ICT having used their three breaks for substitutions, they had to wait until extra-time to replace him with Lewis Hyde.

There was a point where penalty hero Kirk Broadfoot needed treatment off the pitch, as well, so ICT battled on with eight players for a short spell.

No goals – plenty of talking points

The Premiership play-off semi-final second leg under the lights at Gayfield had everything bar a goal.

Like the first leg, no side could find a way through, but the 5,000 fans could not take their eyes off the scenes unfolding.

Trying to make sense of it, thoughts raced back to a previous occasion when the Inverness club somehow came through a high-stakes game to leave their opponents dazed and beaten.

It took me back to February 2, 2014 – the ‘Nick Ross’ League Cup semi-final against Hearts at Easter Road under boss John Hughes.

Just a year after the Jambos knocked ICT out of the cup on penalties, Caley Thistle had the bit between their teeth and fire in their bellies after being asked to play the last-four tie in Edinburgh on a Saturday lunchtime.

 

The odds were already against them, but how they made it through to the final where they ultimately lost in a shoot-out to Aberdeen remains anyone’s guess.

That afternoon was ticking along as you’d expect, with both teams going toe-to-toe, but no goals in the opening half.

Then, Inverness marched in front thanks to a cracking Greg Tansey strike nine minutes after the restart.

Centre-half Gary Warren, already on a yellow card, was sent off 12 minutes later by referee John Beaton for a hotly-disputed challenge on Sam Nicolson.

Ross Draper turns away to celebrate after sending ICT into the 2014 League Cup final.

From the resulting free-kick, Ryan Stevenson tapped the ball to Jamie Hamill, who rifled the ball high past Dean Brill, who could not do much about that rocket.

Hamill, enjoying silencing the ICT fans, rubbed salt in the wounds moments later as he sent another free-kick, this time conceded by Josh Meeking, searing into the net for a 2-1 advantage.

Meekings’ red came in stoppage-time

With the tie heading for its conclusion, or so we thought, in stoppage time, Beaton showed a straight red to Meekings for his frustration-pent tackle on Scott Robinson.

Playing with nine men against Hearts in Edinburgh with 92 minutes gone as the Highlanders aimed for their first major final – it was never going to happen, was it? Think again.

John Hughes was the Inverness boss for that dramatic League Cup semi-final triumph against Hearts in 2014.

Midfielder Nick Ross, who replaced full-back David Raven late in the match, was in the box as ICT threw everything at Hearts and he smashed home a close-range shot to spark wild celebrations in the stand behind that goal.

Two men down, but the battlers from the north had refused to lose that way. Extra-time passed, as it often does, without too much happening, with Hearts certainly coming the closest.

On to penalties – time for heroes

Passion, worry, anger, determination. Wherever you looked on that Easter Road pitch, you could see it.

Caley Jags ace Graeme Shinnie and Hearts’ Paul McCallum failed to net opening shoot-out kicks before Hearts’ star Hamill had his spot-kick superbly saved by Brill. Billy Mckay, Ross and Tansey all tucked away their kicks for the Caley Jags

It was left to gutsy midfielder Ross Draper to have the final say as he beat goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald to secure a sensational 4-2 win.

Saints manager has plenty to ponder

Memories of that match flooded back on Friday as a sense of injustice at decisions fired Caley Thistle up and they delivered the unlikeliest of outcomes.

I’ve heard people say last season’s double cup-winners St Johnstone might well be happy to face Inverness rather than Arbroath in the play-off final on May 20 and 23.

As he watched on, Saints boss Callum Davidson will know – once ICT are patched up and refreshed for Friday’s first leg in Inverness – his Perth side might have to rediscover some of their magic to see off Billy Dodds’ never-say-die heroes.

 

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