Jaggies progress aet:
Caley Thistle progressed to the quarter finals of the league cup for the third time in the last four seasons with a 2-1 victory over Greenock Morton.
Craig Brewster's men needed extra-time to prevail and for a long time it looked odds on that the Jags would be added to the First Division sides list of victims.
Certainly, ICT fans will be asking questions about the performance and if it wasn't for a great strike from Dougie Imrie with less than ten minutes left the questions could have been far more marked than they will after the win.
There were a number of changes to the Caley Jags starting line up with Michael Fraser, Phil McGuire, Roy McBain, Adam Rooney and Andy Barrowman making way for Ryan Esson, Jamie Duff, Russell Duncan, Rory McAllister and Garry Wood.
----------------------------Esson---------------------------- --Tokely------------Duff-----------Munro------Hastings---- ---Cowie-----------Duncan---------Black------Imrie------ --------------------Wood----------McAllister----------------
The bench consisted of Michael Fraser, Lionel Djebi-Zadi, Iain Vigurs, Barry Wilson and Adam Rooney. Andy Barrowman was suspended after his late red card at Gayfield in the previous round.
The match started off on a low-key fashion - perhaps to be expected given the relatively poor crowd and recent poor form of both sides. Most of the possession was Caley's with Ian Black showing a few nice touches in the middle of the park but there was little edge to the game and most moves broke down around the 'Ton box. The home side fared little better, finding it difficult to gain a grip in the middle of the park and finding a returning Russell Duncan doing a tenacious job in the anchor-man role.
Former Clyde midfielder Stevie Masterton, a renowned dead ball expert, sent a fizzing ball across the goal midway through the half to raise the pulse rate of the spectators but no Morton forward managed a touch. The only effort on goal that the Jags managed was through Garry Wood, who got away from Lamar-look-a-like Dominic Shimmins but his shot was pushed away by Kevin Cuthbert.
At this point, the game appeared to be ambling towards half-time with little in the way of incident when the home side took the lead. A Rory Delap-style long throw into the box from Davie Irons' former Gretna charge Erik Paartalu managed to elude the Jags defence and was bundled home in an ungainly manner by winger Jim McAllister. The hardy band of Caley Thistle fans who had made the journey to Cappielow faced up to the prospect of being a goal down with little on display from their side to suggest that clawing back the First Divisions bottom side would be easy.
Half Time 1-0
At half-time Craig Brewster acted to galvanise his teams attack by pulling off Rory McAllister and replacing him with veteran winger Barry Wilson. Wilson was deployed on the right with Don Cowie pushed up front alongside Garry Wood. No-one present could have argued with this decision, McAllister looked nervy and showed little craft, guile or even power up top. The fact that the SPL side started the second half with a strike force consisting of a promising 20 year old without an SPL career goal and a midfielder is a good indicator of the paucity of Caley's striking options.
Despite Caley's reshuffle the home team looked to have been energised and carved out a golden opportunity at the start of the half. Jim McAllister picked up the ball on the left of Morton's midfield and headed for the by-line, skipping past the ineffectual challenge of Jamie Duff with ease. His cross was cut out by Ross Tokely, who diverted the ball onto his own post before heading out for a home corner. Morton had come close to pulling further away and certainly looked to be up for the fight, pressing the SPL team all over the park. Morton again threatened from a set-piece when a soft-looking free kick was awarded and Masterton forced Esson into a diving at his right hand post.
As the match wore on, Caley Thistle began to put more pressure on but the quality of service to the strikers was poor, causing increasing frustration in the away support. This discontent transmitted to the pitch when, after receiving an earful over an errant pass, Russell Duncan replied with a verbal volley of his own. Duncan had a good game, winning every challenge he contested, but his ire may have been better focused on the game.
Also causing consternation within the Jags support was the failure of any further substitutions to be made and there was puzzlement at the withdrawal of Don Cowie for Iain Vigurs, with calls growing louder for the introduction of Adam Rooney. Vigurs, however, performed superbly driving forward and playing positive passes. Caley thistle began to turn the screw with increased pressure leading to a series of corners. The breakthrough finally came in the 78th minute when Ross Tokely hit the byeline and sent over a great cross which was bulleted home by Richard Hastings, only his second goal of his latest spell at the club.
This spurred the visitors on to more pressure and the last ten minutes were a torrid time for 'Ton fans as the Jags surged forward. Iain Vigurs almost capped his influential cameo with a goal but his shot on the turn was headed off the line. Seconds later a penalty claim was turned down as a ball into the box appeared to strike a defenders arm. Singing pastor Mike McCurry thought otherwise though and the game was pushed into extra-time.
Full Time 1-1
Ian Black was withdrawn at full time in favour of Adam Rooney who pushed up front alongside Garry Wood. Imrie shifted back to the left with Vigurs moving inside. The first half of extra time saw several chances for Caley, with ex-St Johnstone keeper Cuthbert earning his keep with a magnificent reflex save from Wood's hooked shot. The second half of extra time saw more chances for the Inverness men, with Adam Rooney looking dangerous. It was the ex-Stoke City forward who set up the winning goal with a perfectly weighted knock down for Dougie Imrie to volley home from the edge of the area. The relief was tangible and the game could have been made safe when Imrie had a shot minutes later that was tipped wide.
Full Time aet: 1-2
The final whistle saw relieved celebrations from Caley Jags players and fans alike. When reflecting on this game the first hour will be looked as an extremely worrying showing, toothless, lacking urgency and brittle at the back. However, the reaction and urgency in the second period was at least heartening, although AET struggles requiring late winners aren't what most SPL sides would expect from a game against the bottom side in the First Divsion. Underlining everything, of course, the the fact that in cup games what matters is which side makes it into the next round and Caley Thistle did that.
In terms of individual performances, Dougie Imrie showed that he is capable of excellent play with a classy winner and some dangerous bursts down the left. He has pace and a great work ethic but can be inconsistent. Iain Vigurs' display from the bench was a breath of fresh air, his positive distribution and confidence lifted the team at an important time and could have played him into contention for a start on Saturday. It was also pleasing to see Russell Duncan's gritty display in the middle on his comeback. More negatively, ICTs strikers again failed to find the net and looked generally ineffectual. Rory McAllister has surely had his last chance and although Garry Wood and Adam Rooney were both willing workers and capable of quality it's hard to escape the feeling that both would benefit from a more experienced striker to take the strain from time to time. With important games against Kilmarnock and Dundee Utd before the next international break, Brewster needs to find the answer to the goalscoring conundrum soon.
Match report written by tm4tj