Poor night for Caley Thistle as Billy Dodds' men slump to 3-1 defeat to Cove Rangers – leaving Premier Sports Cup qualification hopes fading
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Cove Rangers (2) 3 Inverness Caley Thistle (0) 1
(Scorers: Cove - McIntosh 35, Megginson 39, Yule 85; ICT - Duku pen 90)
Caley Thistle’s Premier Sports Cup hopes were last night hanging by a thread after defeat away to Cove Rangers.
The team from a division below struck twice in four first half minutes through Leighton McIntosh and Mitch Megginson to take the upper hand, before Blair Yule’s late third sealed it.
Manny Duku's last-gasp penalty provided scant consolation.
For Cove, with only 14 fit players, it was a superb night’s work, but it left Caley Thistle manager Billy Dodds with much to ponder.
Needing a victory to keep group qualification hopes alive, Dodds made six changes from the side that recorded a disappointing 2-2 draw with Stirling Albion, losing the bonus point on penalties.
Two were enforced with skipper Sean Welsh facing a spell on the sidelines with an ankle problem and fellow midfielder David Carson also injured.
From the outset, it was apparent League One Cove – still low on numbers through injury and Covid issues – would be no pushovers.
Robbie Leitch had a penalty claim waved away inside two minutes after going down to the left of the away box under Wallace Duffy’s attentions.
Fraser Fyvie headed over the bar from Harry Milne’s cross soon after.
The first Caley Thistle threat came after 10 minutes with a mistake from their former ICT and Ross County midfield stalwart Ross Draper, playing in central defence for his new club.
Draper hit a careless pass straight at Manny Duku, who strode towards goal but cut back before seeing his shot stopped on the line by Morgyn Neill.
Big Draper made amends minutes later when he blocked a Michael Gardyne strike after the ex-Ross County wide man cut swiftly inside onto his left foot.
Only a wonderful save from Mark Ridgers on 20 minutes kept the scoreline level. From an Iain Vigurs corner, the Inverness keeper reacted to dive at full-stretch to fingertip away a Leighton McIntosh volley hurtling into the bottom left corner.
Duku struck the side-netting after being fed in by a clever Aaron Doran pass, but it was 1-0 to the hosts after 35 minutes.
Fyvie’s measured ball through was taken superbly on the bounce by Leighton McIntosh who guided a side-footed finish high into the top left corner of the net from 15 yards.
Cove’s pressure only increased and a second came four minutes later.
It was Robbie Leitch’s turn to dink the ball over the top and Mitch Megginson’s control and poise for the low-placed finish inside the left hand post was impressive.
Megginson then knocked another attempt just over the bar after Milne crossed teasingly from the left.
The away team rallied towards half-time with Shane Sutherland firing over the bar and Duku drawing a superb save as he tried to lift the ball over home keeper Kyle Gourlay.
Cameron Harper blazed an early second half Inverness chance over the bar, but Cove retained their menace with Fyvie’s powerful, tricky runs causing flutters.
Ridgers then kept the hosts in it with another fantastic tip over the bar from Connor Scully’s dipping 20-yard strike.
Caley Thistle exerted pressure in steady spells on Cove in the second period, but the home side defended well.
Substitute Tom Walsh went agonisingly close when Milne somehow stopped his 12-yard attempt on the line.
After a scramble and several desperate blocks five minutes from the end, Blair Yule forced in the killer third for Cove to complete a poor evening for the Championship side.
Draper's trip on Roddy MacGregor on full-time gave the Highlanders the consolation of the well-taken Duku penalty to narrow the margin of defeat.
Cove Rangers: Gourlay; Yule, Draper, Neill, MIlne; McIntosh (McAllister 72), Scully Vigurs, Leitch (Watson 46); Fyvie; Megginson. Subs: Mckenzie.
Inverness Caley Thistle: Ridgers; Duffy, Deas, Broadfoot, Harper; Doran, McAlear, Allardice (MacGregor 60), Gardyne (Walsh 60); Sutherland, Duku. Subs: MacKay, Devine, Nicolson, Fyffe, Hennem, Cairns.
Booked: Doran 24
Referee: Chris Graham