Ten-man Raith Rovers came within a dozen minutes or so of defeating the league leaders at Stark’s Park when Aidan Connolly gave them a second-half lead against the numerical odds.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle had a player advantage for the entire second half after Brad Spencer had been shown an automatic red card shortly before the interval and were eventually forced to turn up the heat on their second-placed hosts.
Raith’s normally robust defence was caught out by the equaliser from Sean Welsh and, while Caley were on top in the closing stages, Dario Zanatta unfortunately blew a fine chance to grab a very late second goal for John McGlynn’s side.
The manager said after the game they would view the sending-off incident again from different angles before deciding whether to appeal against Matthews’ dismissal.
“It seemed like an honest attempt to go and play the ball,” said McGlynn. “That was how it looked to me but I am not the referee.”
The boss said he was proud of how the side came back in the second half, a player down, and scored a goal.
The players deserved great credit for “their work rate, their spirit, their organisation to make themselves hard to beat and, at the same time, having a threat going forward”, he added.
There was excellent work from Dario Zanatta to travel all the way to the by-line and a superb finish by Aidan Connolly, he said, adding: “I thought we were really disciplined.”
Inverness’ equaliser was similar to Raith’s goal to an extent but there was an element of a lucky break of the ball to it, said McGlynn, adding it was a case of the extra man probably telling in the end and Raith being caught out by a wrongly-hit ball that found a friendly touch.
“All in all, if you’re going to play around 50 minutes with 10 men against the league leaders, you’ve got to be happy to take a point,” said McGlynn. "Dario had a really good chance near the end that might have been the icing on the cake for us but I am very proud of the players."
McGlynn agreed there had been a lot of midfield enterprise from both sides in the first half but not much end product. “Maybe there were one or two moments in the first half where we could have done better and might have ended up with a good attempt at goal but it didn't materialise,” he said. “A little bit frustrated in the first half but all credit to them in the second.”
Caley Thistle’s Kirk Broadfoot incurred the wrath of referee Colin Steven within the opening couple of minutes and was yellow-carded for a challenge on Ethon Varian. Captain Kyle Benedictus had a couple of bites at the cherry when the ensuing free kick arrived in the Inverness box but his efforts were blocked.
The home side was forced into a substitution as early as the 20th minute when Varian, who had injured a shoulder, was replaced by Matej Poplatnik.
Both teams were probing for weaknesses during the first half but tight control meant there were very few clear opportunities.
Michael Gardyne had a dangerous-looking run towards the Rovers box before being dispossessed.
With around five minutes until half time, despite plenty of enterprise in midfield, there was still virtually nothing on target from either side.
A deflected effort from Aidan Connolly spun wide after skillful play from the Rovers number seven.
Billy McKay was lurking in Raith’s box as the ball came in but Benedictus and Reghan Tumilty dealt easily with the threat.
There was a flash of controversy just moments from half time when Ross Matthews of Raith was shown a straight red card for a heavy challenge on McKay. Rovers’ Ethan Ross was also cautioned for protesting.
The main question as Rovers restarted the game, after such a compact first half, was how the numerical disadvantage would affect them – not to mention how Inverness would react.
A cross three minutes into the second half from Wallace Duffy on the right was cleared with a diving header from Benedictus but MacGregor was off target with his shot.
Tumilty fired a fine shot across the face of the Inverness goal after collecting a lay-off from Connolly, while Shane Sutherland tried to curl a left-foot shot in at the opposite end after Benedictus had slipped at an important moment. The Raith skipper then went off with a hamstring injury, to be replaced by Tom Lang on 52 minutes.
Zanatta played a short corner on the hour to Dylan Tait, who tried also to curl a right-foot effort over Mark Ridgers in the Caley goal, but the effort went wide.
A minute later, 10-man Raith went in front. Zanatta was chased by Duffy from deep in his own half all the way to the by-line and got in a fine cross which was picked up and fired home by Aidan Connolly.
Shortly afterwards, Raith stopper Jamie MacDonald tipped an effort by McKay over the bar.
Manny Duku came on for Inverness to face his former club after 71 minutes, replacing Shane Sutherland. The striker almost made an immediate impact, forcing MacDonald to tip a free kick over the crossbar. Rovers scorer Connolly made way after 76 minutes for Ethan Ross.
Inverness’ extra resources eventually paid off with 11 minutes remaining when Gardyne forced his way into the area and his cross was missed by MacGregor’s wayward swipe but gathered by Sean Welsh, who fired home a decisive shot.
MacGregor was booked four minutes from time for hauling back Spencer after he was relieved of possession by the Rovers man.
Rovers had absorbed an expected bout of Inverness pressure in the closing 10 minutes and Zanatta had a chance possibly to win it for the home side in stoppage time, after a slick move involving Tait and Spencer. But, frustratingly, he didn’t take enough time and care, and fired his shot high over the bar.
Raith Rovers: MacDonald, Tumilty, Dick , Berra, Benedictus (Lang 52), Connolly (Ross 76), Matthews, Zanatta, Spencer, Tait, Varian (Poplatnik 20). Subs (not used) Thomson (GK), Riley-Snow, Mitchell, Young.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle: Ridgers, Duffy, Welsh, Deas, Devine, Gardyne, McKay (Jamieson 81), Sutherland (Duku 71), MacGregor, Broadfoot, Allardice (Doran 64). Subs (not used) Mackay (GK), Walsh, McDonald, McAlear.
Referee: Colin Steven.