Match Report: Inverness Caledonian Thistle 1-1 Raith Rovers

Inverness came from behind to snatch a point at home against Raith Rovers, failing to capitalise on Arbroath’s slip-up against Ayr. Andrew Morrison reports.

Reece McAlear came off the bench to score the leveller for Caley with five minutes left to play.
(Photo Credit – Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC)

After failing to go level on points with surprise table toppers Arbroath before the end of last year, Inverness Caley Thistle failed to fully capitalise on the Red Lichties’ poor performance against Ayr United to pull some ground back in the cinch Championship title race.

After conceding a fantastic solo goal by former Aberdeen prospect Ethan Ross from 30 yards after a sublime solo run, the Caley faithful had to wait until 85 minutes before the home team mustered a reply, with Norwich City loanee Reece McAlear unleashing a similarly spectacular strike from a similar range and angle.

Opting for a direct approach, Inverness manager Billy Dodds lined up with a 4-4-2 formation, making one change from the 0-0 versus Arbroath. With Aaron Doran picking up an injury, Cameron Harper was picked to replace Caley’s number 10. 

Due to players exiting isolation, Inverness also bolstered a rejuvenated bench, with Lewis Jamieson, Reece McAlear, Sean Welsh and Roddy MacGregor all returning to the match-day squad, although goalkeeping coach Ryan Esson remained. 

Raith came to the Caledonian stadium searching for their first win in the Highlands for 22 years. John McGlynn made two changes from the side that drew with Dunfermline, with Tom Lang and Matej Poplatnik making way for Christophe Berra and Frankie Musonda.

Raith dominated play in the opening minutes and nearly capitalised on a Kirk Broadfoot mistake. After the ball was played back to the Inverness skipper on the near side, Ross Matthews pressed heavily, and gained possession of the ball near the corner flag. The shallow cross into the box found Ethon Varion at the far post, but the Stoke City loanee saw his subsequent shot blocked and cleared to safety.

Raith’s supremacy in the early stages continued after 20 minutes and McGlynn’s side soon grabbed the opening goal.

Ethan Ross took possession of the ball on the halfway line on the counter, and seeing no immediate cause to pass, the youngster went on a sublime run before composing himself perfectly 30 yards from goal, and with the backline still seeing no need to close the danger down, the Raith midfielder unleashed a terrific strike into the top corner of the Inverness goal. The power and accuracy ensured that Mark Ridgers’ attempts to stop the ball were futile.

The Inverness response was immediate, and they had the ball in the back of the net moments later. Billy Mckay stabbed the ball high into the net past Jamie MacDonald from six yards out. However, referee Don Robertson blew his whistle for offside.

With halftime approaching, Raith nearly grabbed a second. A Matthews attempt from an acute angle at range ricocheted off the foot of Daniel Devine, but nevertheless still found its way to goalscorer Ross on the edge of the box. However, the youngster failed to put his attempt on target.

With the performance levels of players on both sides taking a noticeable drop as the second half waned on, Raith countered once more. Reghan Tumilty once again found himself in a dangerous position, and his sunken attempt flashed across the face of goal, but the ball could not find the feet of a Raith player to direct it into the net.

With full time quickly approaching, substitute McAlear received the ball from a ways out, and viewing that MacDonald was failing to properly cover his far post, the loanee let loose a low driven shot that somehow managed to evade numerous bodies in the box, and nestled in the bottom corner of the net. The goal proved similarly spectacular to his strike against Greenock Morton at the end of last year. 

Wanting to capitalise further on the momentum gained by the goal, Inverness went searching for a second. Further attempts by Mckay and McAlear failed to trouble MacDonald however, and the match was brought to an end.

Upon reflection, Inverness can be happy coming away with a point, considering they were the team under pressure for long periods in the match. Raith dominated throughout, but could not quite muster the all-important second goal. The opportunity to gain some winning momentum for either side in the New Year will therefore have to wait until at least next week, with both teams having wasted the chance to edge closer to the top of the table.

After the match, Inverness manager Billy Dodds stated: ‘’I thought we were better in the second half. Raith were the better team in the first half, but we kept going and I thought we deserved a draw.

‘‘Reece [McAlear] has been isolating and he’s been in and out of the team and doing well, but for somebody who hasn’t trained a lot in recent weeks, I thought he was really good when he came on. I can’t take anything away from the young guy.’’

Inverness remain second in the cinch Championship, two points adrift of leaders Arbroath with a game in hand. Raith drop to fourth as Kilmarnock were victorious against Queen of the South in Derek McInnes’ first game in charge.

Caley Thistle now face the Dumfries outfit next Saturday, while Raith are likely to face an uphill struggle against the league leaders at Stark’s Park.

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