Billy Dodds says his Caley Thistle players finally rediscovered the belief in their own ability in the two-goal fightback against St Johnstone.
Now the Inverness head coach wants his side, backed by a strong contingent of fans, to deliver a knock-out blow at McDiarmid Park and make history by being the first Championship club to come through six play-off ties to win promotion.
We keep fighting!❤️💙
We go again on Monday with the tie alive after Reece McAlear's double tonight!
Get right behind the team in Perth and roar us on as we look to make history!
🎟️ Tickets for the 2nd Leg available from: https://t.co/jZBTFLpUzC
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) May 20, 2022
Goals from former Caley Jags fans’ favourite Shaun Rooney and impressive Swedish midfielder Melker Hallberg had Saints cruising in the first half as a shuffled-up three-man home defence struggled to make an impact.
A half-time chat, aided by Logan Chalmers and Austin Samuels replacing Aaron Doran and Joe Hardy at the start of the second half, sparked a revival. Reverting to four at the back, after starting with a 3-5-2, also worked a treat.
On-loan Norwich City midfielder Reece McAlear stepped out of the shadows to crash home two wonderful goals to make it 2-2 ahead of Monday’s second leg in Perth.
Belief grew as final fightback began
Dodds was impressed by how the team found their feet and belief as they hit back against the Premiership’s 11th-placed finishers after play-off wins against Partick Thistle and Arbroath took them here.
He said: “My players now believe they belong at this level. At the start of the game, they didn’t believe it.
“But at the end on Friday, in terms of fitness, belief or taking the ball on, scoring goals and having a killer instinct, it was all there. I hope we start like that on Monday.
“We finished as the stronger team on Friday, so the fitness is certainly there. I’m not worried about our fitness.
“We had a good week’s rest between the Arbroath second leg and the St Johnstone game on Friday. It was physical after we played Partick going into the Arbroath game, but I felt we were rested up well for the St Johnstone game.”
No favourites in this final – Dodds
ICT are now seven games unbeaten, with just one defeat in 13 fixtures.
The storming comeback has many believing the Highlanders are now the favourites. Dodds dismisses that notion, but admits they have a fighting chance.
He added: “We’re not the favourites, but we’ve got ourselves back in the tie. No team are the favourites now because we’re level. At half-time on Friday, St Johnstone were heavy favourites.
“There’s pressure – and pressure can do strange things in football.”
Fans would have handed tickets back
Before Friday’s game, 700 Inverness tickets were sold for Monday’s second leg and that number is sure to swell ahead of kick-off.
Dodds joked the supporters might well have ditched their tickets after a disappointing first half, but hopes the response will help get everyone on board for one final push.
He added: “I don’t think the fans would have snapped up tickets at half-time. I think around 700 or so were sold at that point and they might have been handing them back.
“I think we will sell even more now because the supporters know we’re on the cusp. We’re nearly there, but St Johnstone will be the same because their support was fabulous.
“Our supporters were also great on Friday and I’d expect the same on Monday. It will be noisy, tense and nervous.”
Light weekend before final push
Speaking straight after Friday’s dramatic game, Dodds explained what the weekend held it store for his squad.
He said: “We just take the players off their feet on Saturday. The boys who came on as subs, not that there were many of them, will get a wee bit of passing work and we will have a light training session on Sunday and get ready for the big one.”