Written by Adam Sturrock
A goal from Billy Mckay and Tom Walsh in the second half seemed to put the Highlanders in the driving seat for the three points. But ICT were pegged back late on as Queens scored a contested goal to return back to Palmerston with their share of the points.
From kickoff the Caley Jags spent little time imposing their will on the game.
Barely a minute into the half the Highlanders were probing the opposition’s territory, with a low cross from Carson on the right side getting smartly hooked over the shoulder from Mckay into the hands of Joshua Rae. Then came Tom Walsh down the left hand side barely ten seconds later with a dug out cross towards the back post flicked on target by Sutherland leaning back, but not with the power to beat the shot stopper; the ball looped into his grateful hands.
Up at the other end of the park, Calvin McGrory’s thumped cross into the box was sent back out to Connelly, whose first time shot took a slight knick off an ICT player for a corner. Max Johnstone tried to salvage a broken down corner but it was quickly blown offside.
At the 12th minute, Roberto Nditi slid across to shepherd out a ball from Mckay but the Northern Irishman was convinced that the defender handled it on the way out for a corner; referee Willie Collum was not moved by his protests. A corner from Walsh was cleared to the edge but Roddy MacGregor gave the defence a bruise with a firm shot on the half volley that richoted out.
Billy Mckay was keeping the defence on their toes as he constantly moved to give them pause. The striker was within a toenail from meeting a through ball between the centre backs at the 18th minute, but Nditi shuffled across to keep it from danger.
Ridgers also had to be alert to attacks on the break as Connolly almost found Paton with a great through ball behind the line but the GK closed him down and swept it away with his legs with an excellent tackle on the edge of his box.
The hosts almost scored from a hit and run after an ICT player stopped a speculatively headed ball towards goal from a corner and cleared it towards Mckay 20 yards out. The striker instantly flicked it behind him for Walsh to beat a tackle and bomb up the park. The winger returned the favour by looking for the striker on the edge of the box with a cutback but his first time sidefooted effort didn’t have enough power behind it to beat Rae.
A minute later, Walsh hit a much more assured drive, this time forcing Rae into a palmed away low save across his body to his left and Mckay tried to slip the rebound in from a tight angle but was ruled just offside.
ICT continued to pile on the pressure as Mckay found Carson in space in the right half-space and his first time shot from around 20 yards out was deflected out for a deep throw in. Another move came down the left hand side as McAlear slalomed past a stuck out leg and found Deas on his flank for a swept across pass into the middle; Rae stepped up to beat Mckay at the back post.
The pressure kept on piling on in the Queen’s half. A cross from David Carson slipped all the way to Deas at the far side after Walsh created a yard of space. The defender shaped his body well and his rifled left footed shot swept past the wrong side of the near post. Sutherland set fan’s pulses racing with another chance as he chested the ball down for a half volley on the edge of the box that cut across Rae and towards the right hand post, but fell just wide of the mark.
Despite the dominance, ICT had a sucker punch just before the break. Lee Connolly latched onto a through ball in space one on one from Paton, rounded a stretching RIdgers and slotted it home into an empty net. Home fans and players protested the decision as they felt he was offside, but it Collum kept his decision for the the visitors to lead into the half.
Connelly almost got his second goal six minutes after the restart as Paton found his partner in the box, dummied to open the goal up but was blocked by a sliding Danny Devine eight yards out.
ICT almost drew level as a cleared cross from a freekick was met by McAlear on the half volley and it cannoned fortuitously into the arms of Rae.
But the goal eventually arrived to bring things level with a simple ball from Ridgers at the 61st minute. The goalkeeper gathered a headered back ball and sent a speculative pass down field for Billy Mckay to chase. It seemed like Gibson had it covered but the bounce betrayed him and the striker swept a low prodded effort past Rae.
Barely after coming on, Manny Duku almost set up a goal to get the home team ahead with a pass finding Walsh on the stretch in the middle but the winger got underneath the ball and fired it high over the bar.
Then came Shane Sutherland who latched onto a knocked on pass from Mckay. The striker lined up his shot and looked to have scored if it wasn’t from a last ditch block from Gibson to atone for his early mistake.
QOTS almost went ahead with a spectacular drive at the 72nd minute as Alex Cooper hit a speculative effort from around 25 yards on the deep left flank that was about a yard shy from the top right hand corner. But it was ICT that grabbed the game by the neck as Walsh latched onto a pass into space from Mckay, took a few touches to settle himself and then slotted it home into the far side netting.
The visitors immediately shuffled their deck and brought on two subs and one of them made an impact with their first touch. Striker Ally Roy directed the ball home at the back post and confusion reined as it was originally ruled as offside by the far side linesman but Collum intervened and directed players to restart. Despite players protesting, he was unmoved and signalled for the game to begin 2-2.
Clearly frustrated with the goal, ICT pushed for a later winner as they continued to move the ball about the away box in the last 10 minutes.
Then came a last chance as Billy Mckay did well to shield the ball from Debayo in the box, find Manny Duku supporting in the box and the big Dutchman teed it up for Walsh on the run, who hit a firm right footed effort for Rae to tip away from the far left hand post.