Inverness Caledonian Thistle
Review of last season – They often say that football is a game of two halves. Well Caley Thistle had a season of two halves last year. They started the campaign with Terry Butcher in charge and a continuation of the good work he had been carrying out in the years previous. Thistle had only lost 3 out of 13 games by the start of November and looked on course for another great year. Then in November, Hibernian came calling. Manager Terry Butcher and assistant Maurice Malpas both decided to leave Inverness after over four and a half years in charge. The board looked towards John Hughes to take over at the club and he was appointed in early December. For whatever reason the season then fell apart a little bit. A run of poor results in the league followed and a stop start end to the league resulted in a (still very respectable) 5th place finish. Hughes did manage to guide Inverness to a domestic cup final. He was in charge for the League Cup semi-final victory against Hearts and he led the team out at Parkhead in the final in March. Unfortunately Caley lost on penalties to Aberdeen but a cup final and a 5th place finish can still be regarded as a pretty good season, despite all of the upheaval at the club.
Players in – Ryan Baptie (Defender, Hibernian)
Players out – Conor Pepper (Greenock Morton), Matthew Cooper (Elgin City), Ben Greenhalgh (Free), Adam Evans (Free), Joe Gorman (Free), Nick Draper (Free)
What they still need – On the face of it the first choice eleven for Caley Thistle is a strong, solid team with a good amount of experience. They have a very good starting team but if you look beyond that the squad is painfully thin. Inverness don’t have the players to cope with any kind of injury crisis so they need to add a bit of depth across most areas of the park. This is no more evident than upfront. In Billy McKay they have one of the Premiership’s best finishers but they have literally no other recognised strikers at the club. That needs to be addressed urgently.
Expectations this season – A bit more stability. After the upheaval last winter they need to be able to settle things down and hopefully give Hughes the chance to build his own side. In terms of league performance then I think Caley fans might look towards this season with slight trepidation but they can reassure themselves with the quality they have in the squad. This will be an important season for Inverness. Either it will mark the real start to an era under Hughes, or it will be another season of upheaval and managerial changes.
Key player – There is absolutely no doubt about who this is. In Billy McKay Inverness have a striker that every other team in the league would be delighted to have. He has proven himself over the past few seasons to be a natural goalscorer and someone who can win matches almost by himself. He has scored countless important goals and it is actually a bit of a surprise that he has not been lured away from the club yet. That might still happen but for the time being he will be the key to anything Inverness want to achieve this year.
Young player to look out for – Caley have always had a fairly solid reputation for nurturing young talent but they maybe don’t quite produce the ‘star quality’ players that move for huge sums of money. Currently they do have someone who can be regarded as potential future big money player. Ryan Christie is the son of Thistle legend Charlie Christie and he is rightly regarded as their best prospect. A technically gifted midfielder who plays the game with the ball on the ground. He is clever, quick and has an eye for goal. This will be a breakthrough season for him having just signed a new contract. He is now a member of the first team squad and has been talked up by manager John Hughes, so expect him to feature regularly this term.
Opinion on Inverness – Despite the slight negativity surrounding the appointment of John Hughes and the performances towards the end of last season, Thistle have a very solid Premiership squad. They have an effective shape, a good defence and they have a top class goalscorer leading the line. If Hughes can avoid injuries and can get off to a decent start then Caley will be okay this year. Keeping players like Graeme Shinnie and Billy McKay will be crucial to any success this year but the worry must be that either of these players might be sold before the season ends. Hughes has gambled on keeping his squad together. That has huge advantages in terms of consistency but also potential drawbacks as every squad can benefit from a few fresh faces.
Prediction for this season – 6th