Novak opened the scoring early on and burgeoning talent Gray added a second in scintillating style before the break. The 100 per cent record looked in danger after Gary Warren pulled one pack for Cally and the same player was denied an equaliser when Paul Caddis cleared his header off the line. But Blues’ final-day hero from last season completed the scoring in the 89th minute from the penalty spot to wrap up another confidence-boosting victory for Lee Clark’s men.
The Blues boss fielded six of his summer recruits with the home faithful getting their first glimpse of Jonathan Grounds, Gavin Gunning, David Edgar, Stephen Gleeson and Grant Hall whilst former loanee Wes Thomas was back wearing a royal blue shirt.
There were chances for both teams during the early moments of the game. Caley midfielder Marley Watkins broke clear but clipped his shot just over the bar and at the other end Gray cut inside and unleashed a curling effort that flew well off target.
Gray was involved again as Blues edged in front on eight minutes. The teenager drifted infield with the ball before teeing up Novak wide on the left and the striker looked up and curled a delightful shot beyond Dean Brill into the top right corner of the visitors’ net.
It was a classy strike that will no doubt do the striker’s confidence a power of good and he was in the thick of the action again a few minutes later. The former Huddersfield man collected the ball inside a packed penalty area and hit an instinctive shot that was parried away by Brill. Moments earlier Graeme Shinnie, the brother of Blues striker Andy, had advanced into the Blues area but skewed his low shot just wide of Darren Randolph’s right-hand post.
Gray was looking lively for Blues and the academy recruit stung the hands of Brill with a low goal-bound effort that the Caley custodian did well to push around the post.
Billy McKay, Caley’s leading scorer last season, missed a good chance to draw his team level on the half-hour mark with a headed chance from ten yards out but the former Leicester City trainee got his angles all wrong and sent his effort well wide. The energetic Shinnie was certainly making the most of his opportunity to shine on the big stage and he tested Randolph with a low drive that the Blues stopper claimed comfortably.
The two players that combined for the first goal came to the fore again on 38 minutes but this time the roles were reversed as Novak fed Gray and the youngster doubled Blues’ lead in emphatic style. Novak’s forging run took him across the pitch but when his pass landed at the feet of Gray there looked little danger for the visitors until the 18-year-old stepped on the gas and stormed past two Caley defenders. It looked as though he’d taken the ball too far but from the narrowest of angles he crashed his shot through the flailing hands of Brill into the roof of the net.
Eleven minutes into the second-half and Clark shuffled his pack with four substitutes entering the fray – new boys Mark Duffy, David Cotterill and Clayton Donaldson, along with captain Paul Robinson, making his return to action following an injury that has seen him miss most of the pre-season programme.
Blues’ Shinnie and Reece Brown were also introduced as the substitutions for both teams kept on coming and the former Caley man almost set up a third goal for the hosts. Shinnie’s ball teed up Cotterill inside the area but the former Doncaster man’s effort drifted well wide of the target. At the opposite end the visitors’ best attacking moment of the game upto that point saw Ryan Christie pierce the Blues defence with a great through ball to put Aaron Doran clear on goal but Randolph came out well and beat away the shot.
The Scottish outfit weren’t to be denied though as they halved the deficit with 16 minutes left on the clock. The goal came from a corner which Randolph came out to try and claim but missed and Warren was on hand to force the ball home with his head into an unguarded net from only a yard out. Caley’s tails were up and Christie brought a save out of Randolph with a goal-bound effort from the edge of the area.
Clark gave his latest recruit, 19-year-old Denny Johnstone, a run-out and the former Celtic man came close to announcing his arrival at St. Andrew’s with a goal. The big striker hunted down Warren and dispossessed the Caley scorer before showing a good turn of speed to race into the box but his shot from a narrow angle was turned aside by Brill.
Substitute Caddis came to Blues’ rescue as he hooked Warren’s header off the line as Caley threatened to draw level. And those two players were pivotal figures again in the game’s final significant moment. Clayton Donaldson raced onto Shinnie’s though ball and rounded Brill but going away from goal he opted to cut inside the back-tracking Warren and was then grounded by the defender’s trailing leg. The referee pointed straight to the spot and Caddis stepped up to convert into the bottom corner and register another late goal, in slightly less dramatic circumstances than three months ago at the Reebok.
All eyes now turn to next weekend’s opening day trip to Middlesbrough and Blues head for the Riverside in buoyant mood after a highly encouraging pre-season, capped off by a first win on home soil since mid-January.
Blues (4-2-3-1):Randolph, Eardley (Caddis 75), Hall, Gunning (Robinson 57), Grounds, Adeyemi (Johnstone 75), Edgar (Shinnie 65); Gray (Cotterill 57), Gleeson (Brown 65), Novak (Duffy 57), Thomas (Donaldson 57).
Unused subs:Doyle, Packwood, Reilly, Hancox, Lee