Caley Thistle can thrive in Premier Sports Cup against trio of new opponents, insists Ross Tokely
Caley Thistle legend Ross Tokely reckons his old club have nothing to fear after drawing three fresh opponents in their Premier Sports Cup section. The Highlanders will contest an intriguing Group G with Premiership’s seventh-placed finishers Livingston, League 1 winners – and now Championship opponents – Cove Rangers, League 2 champions Kelty Hearts and League 2 side Albion Rovers. The action kicks off on July 9/10 as ICT aim to get over the disappointment of losing their Premiership play-off final 4-0 against St Johnstone on Monday. 🏆 We've been drawn in Group G for the 2022/23 #PremierSportsCup Group Stage pic. This is the fourth time Caley Thistle and Cove Rangers have met in the group stages of the League Cup since the format was introduced in 2016/17. That season was also the last time ICT progressed into the knockouts where they slid to a shock 1-0 loss at Alloa in what was their latest campaign as a Premiership team. They have tackled Hearts and Raith Rovers three times each over the past four years, with the Edinburgh club advancing and the Fifers largely struggling. However, facing Livi, Kelty and Albion should interest ICT fans, with Paul Hartley’s Cove now a team in their division, who also beat Billy Dodds’ team 3-1 in the cup last July. Tokely, whose appearance tally of 589 matches for the ICT is unmatched, is a co-commentator for the club’s TV channel. While not expecting a seamless run to the knockout, he sees a real opportunity to lay down an early marker as the new Championship season draws closer. He said: “The draw has thrown up a different set of opponents, whereas the likes of Hearts and Raith Rovers have played Inverness a few times now. “The competition starts early and I’d imagine Billy Dodds will use it to try and few things as well as trying to qualify.
“I don’t see any reason why Caley Thistle can’t win the group. “Billy might well look at using some of the younger players in some of these cup games. “As we saw last season, it’s all hands to the pump. Former defender Tokely, who starred for the Caley Jags from 1996 to 2012, likes the current format of the League Cup, which ICT were runners-up in 2014, two years before the sections were brought in. He added: “We’d play some Highland League teams, which were decent work-outs, but we would have used the League Cup in its current form as a springboard to start strongly in the league. “The competition offers them something different and it’s good they’ve drawn teams they don’t usually play, such as Kelty and Albion Rovers, while Cove showed what they could do last season. Tokely, meanwhile, was gutted St Johnstone ran out 4-0 winners in the Premiership play-off final second leg on Monday after a strong start by the visitors to Perth. ICT, who were without the suspended duo Danny Devine and Wallace Duffy in the first leg, stormed back from 2-0 down in that home tie to draw 2-2 thanks to a brilliant brace from Reece McAlear. 👏 Once again thanks for your support tonight and through the season. However, on Monday, Saints’ substitute Stevie May scored less than a minute after coming at the start of the second half and a deflected Cammy MacPherson goal soon after made it 2-0. With Inverness chasing a goal, late strikes from Callum Hendry and Shaun Rooney, who has since joined Scott Brown’s Fleetwood Town, capped a superb second half which kept the Perth team in the top-flight. After seeing off Partick Thistle and Arbroath over four ties to reach the final, Tokely reckons that stunning start to the second half left ICT with too much of a mountain to climb.
He said: “Inverness played really well in the first half, but perhaps St Johnstone got a rollicking at half-time and I thought that first goal killed them. “The deflection, which cost the second goal, just after that was another sucker-punch. “I think the injuries caught up with Inverness in the second half and it was a case of coming so close, yet being so far. “The first goal is always crucial in these kinds of games. “They played well for the first 60 minutes of the first leg – but I felt Inverness missed fresh legs such as Roddy MacGregor or Shane Sutherland, who were injured. “I felt sorry for the team in the end after all their efforts during the play-offs. And the former full-back underlined his views that Scottish football chiefs have to give the promotion play-offs a revamp to make it a more level playing field. He added: “I do feel Inverness playing six play-off games in comparison to St Johnstone’s two play-off ties proves the play-offs are fully geared up for the Premiership side. “It’s time for the SPFL to look at the play-offs set-up. “Barry Wilson (ICT first-team coach) was right when he said the fourth-placed Championship side shouldn’t be rewarded with a play-off place.
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