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Ex-Caley Thistle and St Johnstone player Paul Cherry says ICT have real chance to win Premiership play-off final

An Inverness fan celebrate after the semi-final shoot-out win at Arbroath.
An Inverness fan celebrate after the semi-final shoot-out win at Arbroath.

Former Caley Jags and St Johnstone midfielder Paul Cherry reckons the Highlanders go into Friday’s Premiership play-off final as the favourites.

While the bookies back the Premiership’s 11th-placed finishers to edge out Inverness over the two legs, Spain-based Cherry is not so sure.

Eight wins and just one defeat in their last 12 fixtures compare with four Saints victories over the same spell.

Caley Thistle, with nine men on the pitch, defeated Arbroath on penalties in a drama-filled night at Gayfield on Friday.

On Sunday, St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson’s much-changed side slid to a 4-0 loss at Hibs as their poor season fizzled out.

Paul Cherry in action for St Johnstone in 1993.

It’s a far cry from the previous year when the Perth club stunned Scottish football by winning the Scottish and League Cups.

Cherry left Saints in 1996 for three years at ICT, which included him helping to win promotion from the ‘old’ Third Division, now called League Two.

Saints fans might turn on team

He believes Billy Dodds’ men should be fancying their chances in current form.

He said: “I would actually put Inverness as the favourites because they have come off a decent run of form.

“The St Johnstone players right now can’t be in the highest of confidence – not when you have won just one in your last six.

“I think if Inverness can take something from Friday’s game, and take that to McDiarmid Park, they have a chance.

“At Perth, if they can then keep it tight for the first half an hour, the St Johnstone fans will get on their team’s back.

“Having the first leg at home gives Inverness the chance to put themselves into a good position. If Inverness do get a victory on Friday, the pressure will really be on St Johnstone.

“The Saints supporters are a bit disillusioned with the team. Hopefully it will be a really good final.

“It will be a really tight game, for sure. It’s a big match for both clubs – it’s make or break.”

Players will be fired up for kick-off

Cherry insists there won’t be much pre-match talk needed for the sides as they aim to get the upper hand and he reckons how the hosts start on Friday could have a huge bearing on the overall outcome.

He said: “Players don’t need motivation for games such as this one. Players at clubs like St Johnstone and Inverness are playing for their livelihoods. Every game where you’re not playing in the Premiership, you’ll never get that back.

“Every team will face injury issues, like Inverness, but what an opportunity for the boys coming in. You always look at the positives.

Jubilant Caley Thistle head coach Billy Dodds.

“I’ve no doubt Billy Dodds, with Scott Kellacher and Barry Wilson will be putting out as strong a team as they possibly can.

“If Inverness can come out all guns blazing early doors and they get a result at the Caledonian Stadium then the pressure is right on St Johnstone.

“Saints will then have the weekend where the pressure will be on then before the second leg. The influence of social media these days is so strong, it can get into players’ minds.

“If I was the manager of the losing team, I’d be tempted to even take their phones off the players for the weekend. If you’ve won, fine, as you might want to read all the nice things.”

Disappointing season after glory

Cherry, who was signed by Steve Paterson for Inverness as the club had big ambitions, reckons the lack of firepower is costing Saints dearly.

He added: “St Johnstone have had a really bad season, especially on the back of the previous season, which was always going to be hard to repeat. That was unbelievable.

“Everyone, from Callum to the board and the supporters will be really disappointed with the way things have panned out.

St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson lifts the Scottish Cup in 2021.

“They are fortunate to an extent that they’ve got a second chance.

“Their big problem has been their lack of goals, while they’ve also been leaking goals.

“People talk about them losing two or three players, but it then comes down to recruitment. If they knew players were going then they should have been looking to get players in, instead of leaving it until the last minute.

“That said, the board gave Callum money in the January transfer window, but it hasn’t unfortunately made much of a difference.”

‘Big opportunity’ for promotion

The way ICT managed to earn extra-time without sent off duo Danny Devine and Wallace Duffy, as well as injured forward Shane Sutherland, impressed Cherry.

He feels it was the latest example of how this group never throw in the towel.

He said: “In the second game against Arbroath, Inverness were right up against it, but didn’t they show great spirit to come through it?

“In extra-time, I thought Arbroath would have taken the game, but all credit to Inverness, who will see this as a big opportunity to get into the Premiership.

“That’s where the money is and where you want to be playing every week against the biggest clubs.”

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