Alex Samuel was as shocked as title-chasing Raith Rovers after his nine-minute treble sent Caley Thistle towards a thrilling 3-2 Championship win.
The on-loan Ross County forward, who marked his ICT debut the previous week with a goal in the 4-0 Scottish Cup win over Lowland League Broomhill, was the talk of the division thanks to his swift scoring exploits.
After Jack Hamilton’s header gave second-top Raith the lead, 28-year-old Samuels slammed in three quick-fire goals to floor Ian Murray’s Fifers, who have now lost three league games on the spin to sit one point behind Dundee United.
Lewis Vaughan scored early in the second half to set up a potential recovery from the kings of comebacks this season, but ICT defended well to walk off with the points.
The result was not enough to lift Duncan Ferguson’s men from eighth position, but it opened up a six-point gap over bottom side Arbroath ahead of Saturday’s home game against second-bottom Queen’s Park.
Samuel’s praise for ICT team-mates
Samuel’s first goal came from a Nathan Shaw through ball, his second was a fine instinctive strike and his third was a sublime volley connecting with Cammy Harper’s corner.
Clutching the match-ball at full-time, elated Samuel said: “It was the first hat-trick of my career, so to get my first start in the league for Caley Thistle and to score a hat-trick was amazing.
“To be fair, three points were huge for us. It was a team performance, and we did well.
“We closed the game out too, which was good. We deserved three points, so I’m delighted.
“It was quite shocking when my second and third goals went in. What was going on here?
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) January 27, 2024
“To get that reaction (to losing the first goal) was great. The ball through for the first goal (from Nathan Shaw) was fantastic.
“That’s something we were working on. We stuck to the game-plan and it paid off.
“Raith is a really hard place to come to. They are a very good team so to come here and score three goals and go up the road with three points is incredible. Credit to the team and the boys.”
Striker ‘can’t thank manager enough’
Last week, Samuel spoke of how, while remaining a Ross County player, his focus is fixed fully on helping ICT climb the Championship and progress in the Scottish Cup, with Hibs their opponents in that competition on February 10.
And he said the confidence he feels stems from the faith shown in him by Ferguson.
He said: “I am loving my football again. The gaffer has been great, asking me to just go out and show what I can do.
“He has given me that confidence to go and show what I can do. It’s great to be able to replay that with three goals and for the team as well.
“The manager has been amazing since I’ve come in.
“He has given me confidence. He asked me just over a week ago if I wanted to start (against Broomhill) and that just screams to me that he believes in me.
“The manager put me in, and I scored last week and I got three this time, so I can’t thank him enough. He believed in me, and I have repaid him with the goals.”
ICT can widen gap by beating Spiders
Caley Thistle have won just two of their 10 league matches at the Caledonian Stadium this term, which is a figure Samuel is keen to improve upon against Queen’s Park this weekend.
He added: “Every game is huge. We said if we could get the win at Raith Rovers and get the win against Queen’s Park on Saturday we’re back in the fight. That’s how quickly football can turn around.
“Our focus is on Saturday and try to build on this confidence. To take three points away to Raith Rovers is a huge boost for the club and we will focus on that.”
Goals can flow in the Championship
Samuel is well-known for his superb work-rate, but just one Ross County goal since his arrival from Wycombe Wanderers in 2021, doesn’t tell the full story.
A cruciate ligament injury not long after joining County kept him out long-term and he’s rarely been given anything close to a regular run of starts with the Dingwall club under Malky Mackay and now Derek Adams.
He’s confident dropping down one division from the Premiership will benefit him on that front and he’s already off and running with four ICT goals.
He said: “I have always wanted to add goals to my game.
“I always put 100% in, and the goals have not been flowing as much as I’d like. To come down a level and get the chance to show what I can do is amazing.
“I always knew, as long as I give 100% which I do, goals will come by getting into those positions, but it is also about the quality of balls into me. On Saturday, I got really good service.
“I have been in the right place to put the chances in, so it’s credit to the boys as well.”