Inverness 2 St Johnstone 2: Caley Thistle makes stunning comeback to keep Premiership dream alive

INVERNESS CALEY THISTLE staged a remarkable comeback in the Highland capital last night to stun St Johnstone in the first leg of the Premiership play-offs.

The home side came back from the dead to snatch two late goals that could still haunt the Premiership club who looked to have all but secured their top-flight future as they sailed through the first hour at Caledonian Stadium.

But the illusion was shattered by home hero Reece McAlear in a stunning seven-minute spell that gave the Championship side at least a fighting chance in the second leg on Monday night, although there was a suggestion of offside in the build-up to McAlear’s first goal. during which Jamie McCart also received a blow to the head.

The omens were less than encouraging for the home side, given the way the spirited start to St Johnstone was designed to increase the pressure on a Caley side missing five players through a combination of suspensions and injuries, including Danny Devine and Shane Sutherland.

With the game just 40 seconds away, Rooney issued a warning that he was capable of exploiting any pocket of space when he broke down on the right side and tried a diving cross close enough to the target to cause a strong inspiration among the inhabitants. .

Mark Ridgers was then called in to make a fine save from Middleton before Murray Davidson hit a decent effort just wide.

Caley seemed unable to relieve the pressure, although it seemed to be more a case of superior skills from St Johnstone rather than a desire to invite the opposition by choosing to play deep.

The direction of play showed no sign of changing when Ridgers were forced to collect a shot from Rooney. So it was no surprise when St Johnstone scored after 18 minutes of one-way traffic.


Hallberg had a lucky break when the ball popped to him after Lewis Hyde tried to tackle James Brown, allowing him to deliver a cross to the back post for Rooney to score with a header from around 10 yards out.

There was now a desperate need for Caley’s players to pull themselves together and come up with a new game plan in a bid to keep their hopes alive.

It proved to be a vain hope when St Johnstone increased their advantage within six minutes of their header.

The Ridgers managed to parry Callum Hendry’s shot but his fellow defenders couldn’t stop the ball reaching Hallberg in a rush on goal and the midfielder finished finding the net a handful of yards away.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the Championship team was playing for pride in the form of damage limitation, with any realistic hope of turning the tide seemingly gone.

Inverness manager Billy Dodds looked in shock as he walked into the dressing room at half-time, which was hardly surprising under the circumstances given how badly his side had been outclassed .

Dodds worked to effect a change by replacing Aaron Doran and Joe Hardy with Logan Chalmers and Austin Samuels when play resumed. But the newcomers had no noticeable effect on the flow of play.

It was largely a case of Groundhog Day, although the St Johnstone players appeared to have released a throw-in allowing their opponents a little more ball, which forced Jamie McCart to head a dangerous Billy McKay cross from behind.

This seemed to give the Caley players hope and with McKay in the lead they started to question the defense and all of a sudden St Johnstone looked a lot less confident and controlling.

What followed almost defied logic as Caley dug deep and unearthed a remarkable comeback in the space of seven minutes.

McAlear struck twice to stun the opposition who must have felt he had more or less done the job when he led by two goals with 17 minutes remaining and home advantage for the second leg.

His first resulted from a Samuels cross from the left after McKay fed the ball to Samuels who rolled a pass to the edge of the box for McAlear to complete a finish in the roof of the net.

Suddenly the game started up again and when McKay won a free kick following a foul from Davidson, McAlear got up to smash an absolute stunner into the postage stamp corner of the net and give his club the hope that he could reach the promised land. of the Premiership.

Dodds said: “I didn’t know we were beaten, it’s something I knew we had – it was a given.

“We didn’t have to prove it, but we did it again. It’s an amazing thing to have in football.

“Sometimes you have to raise your hand. We tried something different by matching St Johnstone, going man for man.

“They moved us around, they’re used to their system. I didn’t think we did the right things. We didn’t pass the ball well, we forced it, so I had to do something.

“Sometimes the manager has to take it on the chin. I put my hands up because the 3-5-2 wasn’t working. I changed it and put some pace in. The subs were great and a threat when they arrived.

“I knew the next goal was so important when it was 2-0. If we miss it, we can scare them off and that’s what we did.

“I don’t like to mention individuals, but Scott Allardice was just outstanding when he came on to replace someone who hasn’t played for so long. He showed composure.

“I told Reece before the game that he hadn’t scored in a while. He’s a top lad. He gave the ball away a couple of times, but my word, he’s special when he does. is about hitting the ball. He’s proven that time and again this season. When you put it together, it’s nothing short of ridiculous.

“I just wanted to still be in the tie at McDiarmid. I thought we were out of the tie at half-time. I felt like we didn’t believe it and then we scored the goal and suddenly that changed and the belief flows through the I thought we could match if not better them.

“St Johnstone were great in the first half with their movement, they were Premiership class. To turn the tide against a Premiership side when 2-0 up, I’ve been telling you all season how mentally strong my team is .”

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