Tag Archives: Inverness Caley Thistle

Match Preview – Inverness Caledonian Thistle vs Dundee United

Another easy week at Tannadice….

Where shall we begin? First of all there was the most abject of abject performances against Greenock Morton. This was immediately followed by the manager and the first team spending nearly two hours in the changing room after the match. Since the weekend the players and manager have revealed that they had a bit of a ‘Q&A’ amongst themselves with Csaba Laszlo asking the squad to come up with some suggestions as to how to improve the team’s fortunes. I hope that hunger, desire and commitment were on the suggestion list. The big announcement yesterday was the news that Stephen Thompson is to resign as Chairman at the end of the season. The crucial point in this however is that he will remain as majority shareholder along with Mike Martin. The long-term effect of this is unclear at the moment but in terms of being the figurehead for the club Stephen Thompson’s days are numbered. Today, even more bizarrely, the club have been linked with some kind of tie-in with a club in the new 3rd tier of American ‘soccer’. Within all of this we also signed someone! Midfielder Grant Gillespie has joined under freedom of contract having left Hamilton.

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Moving on to the match on Saturday we surely, surely must see some sort of reaction from the United team. Our away record points to the fact that we might not get this and this is also complicated by the fact that Inverness are actually pretty decent at the moment and will be keen to repeat the victory they achieved in October. Our title hopes have all but been extinguished but the team must now focus on ensuring that at the very least we hold on to our 2nd position and if, by some miracle, St.Mirren start dropping points then at least we are keeping in touch with top spot.

Not a huge amount of team news for Saturday but it looks like Tam Scobbie is back and Paul McMullan will return to the team after his suspension. New signing Grant Gillespie should go straight into the squad after declaring himself match-fit. The only other changes may be as a result of Laszlo making alterations due to the abysmal performance against Morton. He doesn’t have a huge opportunity to rotate but we might see two or three changes.

My team against Inverness would be –

GK – Harry Lewis

 

RB – Stewart Murdoch

CB – Mark Durnan

CB – Tam Scobbie

LB – Brandon Mason

 

CM – Grant Gillespie

CM – Craig Slater

 

RM – Paul McMullan

CAM – Sam Stanton

LM –  Billy King

 

ST – Thomas Mikkelsen

 

Subs – Deniz Mehmet, Jamie Robson, Willo Flood, Logan Chalmers, Scott McDonald, Emil Lyng, Idris Kadded.

Key Player – Paul McMullan – After a couple of weeks out of the team it is important that McMullan turns in a performance to show that he deserves to be in the team. He can provide a huge amount of creativity going forward and the team are desperate for more goals.

 

Scottish Championship Mid-Term Report Card – Inverness Caledonian Thistle

It is always difficult trying to re-adjust after a relegation (as Dundee United found out last season) and for Inverness the same pressure was in place during the summer as they knew that they would be playing in the Scottish Championship. I don’t think it is unfair to say that for a long time now Inverness have been punching above their weight. That is not say that they are not a Premiership sized club but their budgets are much smaller than many of their counterparts (including now in the Championship). It is a big challenge to plan and attract new players when you don’t have the lure of top-flight football or the ability to pay big wages. Having sacked Richie Foran after a disastrous spell in charge (plus for his terrible beard) the board moved to bring back John Robertson as head coach in the summer. nintchdbpict000348189927.jpgMany, myself included, thought that his appointment would end in disaster. Bizarrely he didn’t even apply for the job but was offered it due to connections on the board. I don’t particularly like clubs that re-visit previous regimes but Inverness seem to do it more than most. It also doesn’t help that the boardroom situation at the club is in a bit of a mess. People seem to be coming and going on the board which does not help with stability, especially in a difficult period such as this. It has also been suggested in recent weeks that the future of the club could be in jeopardy due to the current stadium deal (link).

As for the team on the park well Robertson, who last managed the club nearly 15 years ago, got off to a pretty disastrous start after winning only one of his first seven games. However, as if by magic, on the 30th of September a 0-0 draw at home to Queen of the South seemed to kick some life back into their season. Since that game Robertson’s men have only lost twice in twelve and have managed to shore up their defence (breaking a club record for consecutive clean sheets in the process). They are still way short of a finished article but they seem to have a decent momentum behind them. Games against St.Mirren, Falkirk and Dunfermline in quick succession in January will go a long way to show how far Robertson has improved this team since the start of the season.

January Wishlist – Just like a few teams in this division Caley are crying out for some firepower. They have secured the services of Nathan Austin who was released by Falkirk but they will need another one striker at the very least. Furthermore, with the departure of long-serving David Raven they will definitely need another reliable right-back to take his place.

Player of the Season (so far) – I have noticed a few Caley fans singing the praises of Mark Ridgers this season and it seems as though he has definitely improved as a goalkeeper. However for player of the season so far I can almost feel my fingers hurting as I type this. DQxhiLQUQAE-SsbTo be honest any Dundee United fan reading this report will have this down as one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written, but my pick for the best player for Inverness so far is……..Coll Donaldson. Yes, Coll Donaldson. The world is a weird and wonderful place.

The central defender has found a new lease of life at Inverness and has put in some terrific performances during his spell at the club. He has recently signed a contract extension and will undoubtedly be keen to continue to prove the haters wrong (mainly United fans).

Predicted Finish – 4thI’m taking a gamble here but I have faith in Inverness finishing in the last playoff spot. I’m not sure what it is but I think they have reason to galvanise as a squad and they seem to have found a bit of purpose recently. Much will depend on two or three quality additions in January but for me I think Robertson’s side have more about them compared to others who will be fighting it out for 4th spot. I’ve probably jinxed it now but I do think that they will have just about enough.

Manager Grade – B. John Robertson. Even thinking about him as a football manager again still makes me feel a bit odd. He was out of coaching for five years and got the job despite not applying for it but yet he has managed to do something good in recent months otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about a possible 4th place finish. Are Inverness where they are because of Robertson or in spite of Robertson?

Overall Grade – C.  I’m not really sure what to make of Inverness, and I am sure that some of their fans probably think the same. If you are a diehard Caley fan then this season has been really difficult. Beyond the relegation itself behind the scenes things are not healthy and you wonder if another season in the Championship may make things even worse. Who knows what the future may hold for this club but at the moment there does not seem to be much good will towards the board and the prospect of what may happen in the coming months. On the pitch things are a bit more stable after a shaky start and it may be the case that in a few months time the fans will have at least the playoffs to look forward to. In many ways, more than most in this division, the next few months will be huge for this club.

Football photo of the day…SPFL Roundup Week 3

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After a hectic and eventful set of midweek fixtures it was a case of keep calm and carry on for Hearts, Aberdeen, Celtic and Dundee who all continued their fine start to the season. Sidess are now beginning to show their worth as the season begins to pick up pace and a total of 25 goals were scored on Saturday as every single team took to the field . For some it has been a very positive first few matches but for fans of sides like Kilmarnock, Dundee United and St.Johnstone there has been little to shout about. The biggest surprise of the weekend came at New Douglas Park as a previously goalless Hamilton side destroyed Dundee United 4-0. With some behind-the-scenes issues at Tannadice in the headlines the pressure is really beginning to build on Jackie McNamara. His odds of being the first sacked manager of the new season fell significantly at the weekend…

Full results –

Celtic 4 – 2 Inverness

Dundee 2 – 1 St.Johnstone

Hamilton 4 – 0 Dundee United

Motherwell 1 – 2 Aberdeen

Partick Thistle 2 – 2 Kilmarnock

Ross County 1 – 2 Hearts

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Highlights

Player – This week it is praise for one of those unsung heroes. Dundee’s Nicky Low produced a fine midfield display against St.Johnstone, one that included two assists. The summer signing will feel as though he never really established himself at Aberdeen so he will see this season as an opportunity to finally make his mark.

Performance/Result – Definitely has to be Hamilton’s wonderful performance against Dundee United. Having not scored a single goal so far this season they played some lovely football and completely outclassed a lacklustre United. Will this be a result to kickstart their campaign?

Goal – After securing a dramatic point midweek you would have assumed that James McPake had finished scoring for the season but on Saturday he managed to pull off a wonderful acrobatic volley straight from a corner that just about gives him the tag ‘goal machine’.

Controversy – A fairly quiet week in terms of decisions however Ross County might feel slightly hard done by after Heart’s defender Igor Rossi was allowed to stay on the park after conceding a penalty up in Dingwall. Had he been sent off it could have changed the game but it was a tough call by the referee who only produced a yellow. Elsewhere, although it wasn’t a refereeing decision the signing of Scott Allan by Celtic has certainly caused some lively debate on Twitter!

Football photo of the day…SPFL Roundup Week 2

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Week two of the Scottish Premiership season saw three teams maintain a 100% record but piled further misery on Kilmarnock supporters. The Killie fans travelled to Aberdeen knowing that they were likely to lose against everyone’s ‘best of the rest’ side and their fears were realised as they fell meekly to a strong Dons team. Even this early in the season there are doubts as to how they will collect points from week to week. Elsewhere Dundee United bounced back after an opening day defeat against Aberdeen as they collected all 3 points against a Motherwell side who would have felt a little disappointed at not getting anything out of their game at Fir Park. Dundee and Hearts served up the weeks most intriguing and entertaining game at Dens, with the Edinburgh side picking up a massive three points against a strongly fancied Dundee team.

Full results – 

Dundee 1 – 2 Hearts

Motherwell 0 – 2 Dundee United

Ross County 2 – 0 Hamilton

St.Johnstone 1 – 1 Inverness

Partick Thistle 0 – 2 Celtic (Sunday)

Aberdeen 2 – 0 Kilmarnock (Sunday)

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Highlights

Player – Hearts have found a player in striker Juanma. The summer arrival scored in the opening fixture against St.Johnstone and won the game for Hearts against Dundee. An impressive solo goal capped off a fine performance for the Spaniard as he grabbed a brace at Dens. It already looks like he will be a key player for Hearts this season.

Performance/Result – After the turbulent times of last year it was a very impressive Ross County performance and result at home against Hamilton. The Staggies have undergone yet another squad transformation this year and this was their first real test. A 2-0 home win against a side who will be considered one of their rivals this year was the perfect start to their home campaign.

Goal – A couple of strong candidates this week. A bizarre but pretty fine finish from Tom Rogic for Celtic was up there, as was the strike by the very talented Ryan Christie for Inverness in Perth. My favourite finish of the week though was from the impressive Graeme Shinnie. Scoring his first goal for Aberdeen the fullback took his goal very well, showing off his technique and ability. Already he is proving to be a great signing for the Dons.

Controversy – A couple of penalty claims and incidents had a few people talking this weekend. At Dens we had a handball decision that led to a penalty for Hearts and at Firhill we had a handball decision that was ignored by the referee. Both were as a result of a defender jumping to head the ball but both were under slightly different circumstances. At Dens it was James McPake who was the guilty party and although some have claimed it wasn’t a penalty the fact that he was facing the ball and it had been floated in meant it probably was the correct decision (and I am not just saying that as a United fan!). With the incident in Glasgow it was a case of a close range ball in the air and although Mikael Lustig had his hand up he was facing away from the ball and had no way of purposely handling it. The decision to ignore the claims was probably justified in this case but it is one of those incidents that would have been given on another day.

Scottish Football 2015/16 – Premiership Preview

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So, as promised here is my Premiership preview for 2015/16. It will be significantly shorter than last year’s and won’t go into as much detail, but hopefully this will provide a concise and to the point preview of the season ahead in Scotland. I would have loved to have dedicated more time to this but it simply has not been possible this year. To begin with here is a short recap on how things finished in 2014/15 –

Scottish Premiership 2014/15

WINNERS – Celtic (qualified for Champions League Second Qualifying Round)

RUNNERS-UP – Aberdeen (qualified for Europa League First Qualifying Round)

EUROPA LEAGUE QUALIFICATION – 3rd – Inverness Caley Thistle (qualified for Europa League Second Qualifying Round), 4th – St.Johnstone (qualified for Europa League First Qualifying Round)

RELEGATED – St.Mirren

PROMOTED FROM CHAMPIONSHIP – Hearts (winners)

LEAGUE CUP WINNERS – Celtic

SCOTTISH CUP WINNERS – Inverness Caley Thistle

Scottish Premiership Preview 2015/16

Last season was actually pretty exciting for a number of different reasons. The league was very competitive at both ends and there were a few surprise packages along the way. Will this season be another roller coaster? Most teams have recruited well over the summer and there will be some new challenges this year. For fans of most clubs it will be the usual mixture of highs, lows and surprises.

Aberdeen fans can rest easy. They have by far and away the strongest team out-with the champions Celtic. Derek McInnes has only made a couple of changes to his squad and has finally added a natural left back in the shape of Graeme Shinnie who arrives from Inverness (and may well be the signing of the season). The Aberdeen players and fans will undoubtedly be looking forward to challenging on a number of fronts this year and they might give Celtic an even bigger push than they did last year (even if they did fall away at the end of the season). It is a great time to be a Don and although they didn’t win any silverwear last season it was still a very good year for Aberdeen.

The Manager – Derek McInnes has shown his quality since taking over at Pittodrie. He has the determination and skill to continue to be a success at Aberdeen. McInnes is honest when he makes mistakes and isn’t afraid to change things, he is a real asset to the Dons and the only worry might be that he may sometime in the future want another chance to prove himself down in England. For now though he is happy and well-loved in Aberdeen.

Signings – Joe Nuttall (Striker, Manchester City), Paul Quinn (Defender, Ross County), Graeme Shinnie (Defender, Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Danny Ward (Goalkeeper, Liverpool, loan)

Expectations vs Reality – 1435871417543002Safe to say that fans of most clubs are pretty jealous of Aberdeen and for good reason. They are one of a few sides who can safely assume that the expectations they have will be matched on the pitch. The fans will want a piece of silverwear this season and another second place finish, they will probably get both. Aberdeen fans need not lose any sleep over what might happen this year.

Prediction – 2nd (comfortably)

What to say about Celtic that hasn’t already been said? Writing a preview for them is both very easy, and pretty boring. That is simply down to the fact that they are going to win the league again, and probably win a trophy or two…again. Ronny Deila’s side will need to try to improve in Europe but domestically they still have the best team and by far and away the largest resources.JS64451865

The Manager – Ronny Deila starts his second season in charge in a positive light. He has endeared himself to the Celtic supporters with his positive attitude and his high level of passion for the job. His first year was a success despite an early season struggle. The next step is to make an impact on Europe. Much like McInnes he is a young, driven manager who might want to progress further in his job but for now he has a chance to build a strong legacy at Celtic.

Signings – Dedryck Boyata (Defender, Manchester City, £1.5m), Nadir Ciftci (Striker, Dundee United, £1.2m), Logan Bailly (Goalkeeper, OH Leuven, £250k), Saidy Janko (Defender, Manchester United)

Expectation vs Reality – Celtic fans expect a clean sweep domestically. Deila nearly managed it last year so that will be his aim this season. They also want a degree of success in Europe, which means qualification for the Champions League Group Stage. The reality will probably be that domestically things will go to plan but in Europe they might struggle again.

Prediction – 1st (is there any doubt?)

Last year was a success for Dundee with their first campaign back in top flight ending with a top six spot. Credit must go to Paul Hartley who assembled a solid and effective squad that played some excellent football. Even the most positive of supporters would have been delighted with a 6th place finish and they will be looking ahead to this year with a real sense of optimism.

The Manager – imagePaul Hartley is quickly establishing himself as a top class manager with a great future. He joins a number of young managers in Scotland whose career could go on to really big things. His knowledge of the Scottish game has allowed him to sign some quality players from the lower leagues, something that he is once again doing this summer. Hartley has rejected moves away from Dundee for the time being, fans will be keen to hang on to him for some time.

Signings – Kane Hemmings (Striker, Barnsley), Kevin Holt (Defender, Queen of the South), Julen Leanizbarrutia (Defender, East Fife), Nicky Low (Midfielder, Aberdeen), Rory Loy (Striker, Falkirk), Daryll Meggatt (Defender, Alloa Athletic), David Mitchell (Goalkeeper, Stranraer), Nick Ross (Midfielder, Inverness Caledonian Thistle)

Expectation vs Reality – The problem with having a good season is that expectations then build for the next one. Dundee fans are quietly confident of another good year and they will tell you that their squad is stronger than it was last season. Don’t say it too loudly but I think this could be the year that they finish above Dundee United, which in itself would be a huge bonus for the supporters. It is a gamble signing so many players from the lower leagues so it will be really important Dundee get off to a good start.

Prediction – 5th

Dundee United find themselves in a familiar position this summer. More talent has departed Tannadice and the manager is left with another year of rebuilding. Jackie McNamara has been receiving a bit of criticism over the way the team has been performing in recent times so this year will be a huge test for McNamara and one that might define his management of United. Behind the scenes the board has also been criticised for selling off players to Celtic. The recruitment and selling policy that the club operates certainly divides supporters and if things are not going well on the park the negative views expressed by many will continue.

The Manager – Many people (this blogger included) have serious doubts about Jackie McNamara. The squad he now has is pretty much all his, so he has no excuses this year. He has made some glaring errors in the past so this year will probably seal his fate one way or another. Sorting out the defence and ensuring that United do not get bullied by other teams is something he needs to get right.

Signings – Darko Bodul (Striker, Rehindorf Altach), Coll Donaldson (Defender, Queens Park Rangers), Mark Durnan (Defender, Queen of the South), Rodney Sneijder (Midfielder, Free)

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Expectation vs Reality – United supporters have reached a stage where they have strong expectations that are maybe not being matched. This season will provide a huge challenge for United and the squad is looking weaker than it has in a couple of seasons. The expectation will be top six and potentially a cup final but this is maybe one season too many for the current regime at Tannadice.

Prediction – 6th (just)

It is safe to say that Hamilton had a fairly eventful first year back in the Premiership. With a stunning start and a stuttering finish it was a bit of a roller coaster. alex-neil-4x3132-2379220_478x359After Alex Neil guided the team to the top of the table in the early stages of last season the side fell apart when he left for Norwich. Martin Canning has struggled since taking over and the fans might be a little anxious ahead of this second season in the top flight.

The Manager – Martin Canning’s appointment by the board was a case of asking someone who knew the club inside out to carry on the development that Alex Neil had achieved. It hasn’t worked. Canning lacks managerial experience and he is learning things the hard way. He has been busy in the summer transfer market but this is maybe not the job for him. Expect him to be one of the favourites for the sack during this campaign.

Signings – Alan Martin (Goalkeeper, Clyde), Chris Turner (Midfielder, Dumbarton), Antons Kurakins (Defender, Ventspils), Gramoz Kurtaj (Midfielder, Banik Most), Christian Nade (Striker, Raith Rovers), Carlton Morris (Striker, Norwich City, loan), Salva Chamorro (Striker, Lleida Esportiu).

Expectation vs Reality – After last year it isn’t really known what the average Hamilton fan might want out of this season. Yes they challenged in the upper reaches of the league for long spells in 2014/15 but they also fell away badly. Survival will be the aim for the fans in this difficult second season, and it is something they will be fighting for right from the off. If they start with a poor run of form it could spell disaster for the Accies.

Prediction – 12th (sorry, for the second season in a row from me!)

Hearts had the perfect season last year. They won the Championship with plenty of time to spare and more importantly they got everything in order at the club. There is no doubting the size of Hearts as a club (their season ticket sales only further show this) so it is great to have them back in the top-flight. It seems strange to say this but sometimes relegation can be a great thing for a club, for Hearts it looks like it was the perfect ‘time-out’ from the Premiership and now they are back in a much stronger position.

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The Manager – Robbie Neilson (with Craig Levein as his trusty advisor) is beginning to forge a very promising managerial career. He has worked under some tough circumstances but he has also had the luxury of being able to build a club from its foundations (no easy task). It remains to be seen just how far Neilson can go in his career but if he has a good season with Hearts this year his stock will rise.

Signings – Blazej Augustyn (Defender, Gornik Zabrze), Juanma (Striker, Kalloni), Gavin Reilly (Striker, Queen of the South), Igor Rossi (Defender, Maritimo)

Expectation vs Reality – Despite being a newly promoted side the Hearts fans are quietly confident of a successful return to the Premiership. The club is finally back on a sound footing both on and off the field so the fans will be looking for the club to return to the upper end of the league and become a force again. The reality is that they may well have the season they hope for. The club have recruited well and the management team know what they want. The squad will still be on a high after last year and Hearts could find themselves competing for Europe this season.

Prediction – 3rd

What a year it has been for Inverness. The fans have experienced some historic events and the recent Scottish Cup win will live long in the memory. JS64888023Caley can be described as a ‘steady Eddie’ with recent league seasons following a very similar pattern. The supporters are used to seeing a small squad stretched to its limits but one that always seems to perform above expectations. The trophy they now have in their cabinet is the richly deserved reward for the work that has gone on in the last few years. 

The Manager – I have said it before and I will say it again. I was wrong. When John Hughes was appointed as Inverness manager and started with a run of defeats I assumed he was not up to it and would be sacked. Fair play to Yogi, he has settled in to this role incredibly well and it looks like he is loving his time up in the highlands. Hughes knows himself that he will never have a huge budget but what he lacks in money he more than makes up for in squad spirit and determination. It is difficult not to get caught up in the enthusiasm he shows for the game.

Signings – Dani Lopez (Striker, La Roda), Jordan Roberts (Midfielder, Aldershot Town), Nat Wedderburn (Midfielder, Cowdenbeath), Owain Fon Williams (Goalkeeper, Tranmere Rovers)

Expectation vs Reality – Last season will be impossible to top so the Inverness fans will actually be fairly relaxed about the season ahead. They have the memories from last year and the squad can play with little pressure this year knowing what they achieved a few months ago. John Hughes will be reminding his side of their achievements and he will be using those memories to spur his squad on in this campaign. Inverness have been very steady and consistent for a number of years, that should continue.

Prediction – 4th

Kilmarnock are a club that have had a few seasons to forget. The previous regime under Allan Johnston was a complete disaster and they were very lucky not to have been caught up more in the relegation fight last season. It never helps when things are not well off the field but it seems as though things have settled down on that front. Fans will feel that their money and time has been wasted in a period that has never amounted to anything. 

The Manager – Gary Locke was an obvious choice to take the manager’s role when Johnston left. He steadied the Kilmarnock team and managed to achieve some good results. It was a very bold (and strange) decision to reward Locke with a three year contract given Kilmarnock’s recent luck with head coaches but it did show that they were willing to get behind the former Hearts manager. Will he be here come next May? My gut feeling is no. He is in for a long hard season.

Signings – JS67149804Kris Boyd (Striker, Rangers), Dale Carrick (Striker, Heart of Midlothian), Kallum Higginbotham (Midfielder, Partick Thistle), Jamie MacDonald (Goalkeeper, Falkirk), Lee McCulloch (Defender/Coach, Rangers), Scott Robinson (Midfielder, Heart of Midlothian), Steven Smith (Defender, Rangers), Stuart Findlay (Defender, Celtic, loan)

Expectation vs Reality – Despite managing to settle things down off the field it still feels as though Kilmarnock are struggling to find a rhythm and a long-term plan. The team has been under performing for a while so if you were to ask a supporter what they wanted they would probably just say “better than last year”. Locke has made some solid enough signings but he has also relied on a few older heads who have joined the squad. A few former Hearts signings have meant that Locke is going for some tried and trusted players but it will be a tough season at Rugby Park and if you are going to rely on a recently hapless Kris Boyd for goals then it could turn out to be a bit of a nightmare for Killie fans this season.

Prediction – 11th

Well I suppose Motherwell can lay claim to the most exciting end to the season last year. They managed a superb win over Rangers in the playoffs that had the whole of Scotland watching on with interest. I suppose in some ways there will be Motherwell fans who would have enjoyed that sense of drama but they will probably settle for something a bit more solid this campaign. Ian Baraclough arrived at Fir Park last year and his tenure has been eventful (partly down to his ‘charismatic’ persona). The fans have been brilliant in backing the team both home and away but it has been a disappointing couple of seasons for the club.

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The Manager – Ian Baraclough is definitely one of those love/hate managers. He says what he feels and is always willing to add a bit of emotion to his interviews and analysis. The league needs that and the fans welcome it (as long as things are going well). It is difficult to judge Baraclough given he has not had too long in the job and the squad he has is only now becoming his. He enjoys making a number of signings and has done so again this summer so it is a case of wait and see with him.

Signings – Joe Chalmers (Defender, Celtic), David Clarkson (Striker, Dundee), Wes Fletcher (Striker, York City), Kieran Kennedy (Defender, Leicester City), Louis Laing (Defender, Nottingham Forest, loan made permanent), Louis Moult (Striker, Wrexham)

Expectation vs Reality – I feel a bit sorry for Motherwell fans. Being a force in Scotland must now seem like a distant memory. They enjoyed a number of season challenging for league honours but now they have to accept that they are still going though a turbulent time. Fans would probably accept a solid season and a league position that was a step further away from where they ended up last year. They will probably get that. I think Motherwell will have a solid, if fairly average, season. Maybe after last year that is actually perfectly fine.

Prediction – 8th

Partick Thistle have settled into an established Premiership side. They have enjoyed a few pretty consistent seasons and although they have never quite threatened to break into the top six they have, for the most part, avoided any real danger. That was the case again last year as they finished 8th in the league. Alan Archibald has a settled squad and the club are continuing to do well financially in terms of playing within their budget. 

The Manager – I have a real soft spot for Alan Archibald as he is still one of my favourite United players in the last decade. The solidity and consistency he brought to the United defence has now been transferred into his managerial career. After Jackie McNamara left Thistle a few seasons ago there was a worry that the side would struggle. Nothing could be further from that as Archibald has been a very good manager for the Jags (ask many supporters and they will choose Archibald over McNamara). He strikes me as the kind of manager who is settled and happy in his job so he will be at Firhill for a long time to come.

Signings – David Amoo (Midfielder, Carlisle United), Callum Booth (Defender, Hibernian, loan made permanent), Tomas Cerny (Goalkeeper, Hibernian), Gary Miller (Defender, St. Johnstone)

Expectation vs Reality –JS67210797 Some Thistle fans might be getting itchy feet. After a couple of solid seasons they might look at what teams like St.Johnstone and Inverness have achieved and ask “why can’t that be us?”. They have similar budgets and (probably) more supporters so this might be the last season that they will accept a 8th or 9th place finish. I wonder if this might be a tough season for the team. Archibald has made some signings but other than Cerny the goalkeeper none of the new players stand out too much. Partick won’t get relegated but they might get dragged into a fight at the bottom of the table.

Prediction – 10th

Ross County are definitely a side that has yet to find their feet. Year on year they make a raft of signings that take time to gel and it is always a case of making a late surge to find safety. That familiar pattern was repeated again last year as it took a remarkable run of form late into the season to salvage their Premiership status. Jim McIntyre’s side showed in the final few weeks that they were a very decent side but the fans will have been tearing their hair out as to why it took so long to show it.

The Manager – Young, determined and now pretty experienced Jim McIntyre says the right things and seems to be someone who knows their way around this job. The jury is still out on whether or not McIntyre is a top flight manager but this year we will find out. He has assembled a squad that is almost entirely his so if the side struggle this season there is only one person to blame. It could be a career defining season for Jim McIntyre.

Jackson-Irvine-660x496Signings – Andrew Davies (Defender, Bradford City), Richard Foster (Defender, Rangers), Scott Fox (Goalkeeper, Partick Thistle), Jonathan Franks (Midfielder, Hartlepool United), Michael Gardyne (Midfielder, Dundee United, loan made permanent), Brian Graham (Striker, Dundee United), Darren Holden (Defender, Hartlepool United), Jackson Irvine (Midfielder, Celtic, loan made permanent), Ian McShane (Midfielder, Queen of the South), Stewart Murdoch (Midfielder, Fleetwood Town), Chris Robertson (Defender, Port Vale), Dan Bachmann (Goalkeeper, Stoke City, loan)

Expectation vs Reality – Ross County fans are a patient and understanding bunch. They have enjoyed their top flight status but they also know that it is something that is almost always under threat. They give their managers time and back their team (especially when some of the local talent are involved) so they will be there again this time around. In reality  this will be a challenging season and another that will be very testing for the patience of the fans. They will look forward to seeing a brand new team but the danger is that yet another transfer merry-go-round will do serious damage to the fortunes of the side.

Prediction – 9th

When I think of  St.Johnstone I always think of Inverness. The two sides are very similar in size and they are both very similar in terms of achievements in the last few years. The Perth side enjoyed a Scottish Cup win a couple of years ago and in the league they continue to make their small budget and small squad work effectively.alashkert-fc-st-johnstone-europa-league_3320825 Fans of the Saints are now used to successful seasons and successive European spots. They have already been eliminated from the Europa League but even being there in the first place is a success.

The Manager – Tommy Wright seems to thrive under the pressure of being a consistent underdog. Even when his side are playing teams below them there is always a sense that St.Johnstone approach every game with the determination of a side that has something to prove. He has shown his quality in terms of organisation and motivation with his achievements speaking volumes for his managerial talent.

Signings – Liam Craig (Midfielder, Hibernian), Graham Cummins (Striker, Exeter City), Liam Gordon (Defender, Heart of Midlothian), Brad McKay (Defender, Heart of Midlothian), Joe Shaughnessy (Defender, Aberdeen), John Sutton (Striker, Motherwell)

Expectation vs Reality – Despite enjoying success in the last few years the supporters of St.Johnstone approach every season with a sense of anxiety. They know they have performed above expectations in recent times and there is always a slight worry that maybe they have overachieved with the squad that they have. My feeling about St,Johnstone this season is that they have not improved enough over the summer and with Hearts and Dundee on the up they might be the team pushed out of the top six as a result.

Prediction – 7th

So, in terms of a preview that is about it! Hopefully if I have more time I might try to look in more detail at some of the players involved in the league this year and I am sorry that I have not been able to look at the lower leagues (again maybe I will write something soon if I can). Many will disagree with my predictions and I was wildly inaccurate with some last year (Hamilton being the worst) but they are my predictions and whatever happens this season will undoubtedly spring  few surprises.

Enjoy the season ahead everyone!

Scottish Premiership Christmas Report Card – Hamilton, Inverness, Kilmarnock and Motherwell

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Every single Scottish football fan must be totally shocked (and many delighted) at just how amazingly well Hamilton have performed. Most pundits and experts would have had Hamilton scrambling around the bottom of the table trying to stave off relegation this season. Hamilton-660x496Nothing could be further from the truth though as the Accies were actually top of the league during the early matches and despite them slipping a little they are still riding high at the top end of the table.

After the playoff victory against Hibs in May that secured their place in the top flight it was up to Alex Neil to prepare his squad for the new season. One of the reasons that many people did tip Hamilton for the drop is down to the fact that they didn’t really change their squad too much and didn’t sign a large number of players with Neil having faith in the team that got them promoted.

The season started the way many people thought it would with a defeat against Inverness at home. Fans might have been worried that the score line that day indicated the possibility of a long and hard season. Even those diehard fans wouldn’t have predicted that Hamilton were to then go on a wonderful run of 9 matches without defeat (including 7 wins). These results were no flukes as they took several teams apart including Aberdeen who they totally demolished 3-0 at home. 312476-hamilton-accies-alister-crawford-celtic-scottish-premiership-october-5-2014The football on show was also very pleasing on the eye as Hamilton passed teams to death on many occasions.

The form of Hamilton caught the eye of fans and broadcasters outside of Scotland as people wanted to know how this relatively small team who had just been promoted were managing to achieve such fantastic results (including a 1-0 victory at Parkhead). Alex Neil simply told people it was down to hard work and a strong team ethic.

Just as with every football team the good times were not going to be here forever and it has to be said that Hamilton have started to stutter a little bit. Since their victory against Aberdeen in October they have had a series of up and down results but they have just about kept their momentum going as we approach the New Year.

JS52921725What has to be said is that Hamilton have managed to get the very best out of a squad of players that to many will be either relatively unknown or are now approaching the twilight of their career. Players like Dougie Imrie and Mickaël Antoine-Curier are guys that wouldn’t excite many Scottish football fans but they have been excellent this season in a Hamilton side that has a great balance and a system that really works.

Accies fans will still be erring on the side of caution as they look ahead to January and beyond but they must be confident that having now played every team in the league that they can compete with almost anyone. Even if the worst happens and they do go on a bad run of form then they at least have a large number of points already in the bag.

With such a strong start it will be interesting to see Alex Neil’s approach in the transfer window and whether or not he feels the time is right to add more bodies.

 Top Performer – At the start of the season this blog had Michael McGovern down as being the key man for Accies this year. Tony-AndreuMcGovern has been a standout for the side so far but his form has been overshadowed by the guy they call #22. Tony Andreu has been simply outstanding for Hamilton this term. The technically brilliant Frenchman is not only Hamilton’s top scorer but the top goal scorer in the Scottish Premiership despite not actually really being an out-and-out striker. Andreu is a playmaker, a goal scorer and a goal provider. It might be tough for Hamilton to hold on to him if he continues his impressive form.

Must do Better – It is really harsh to actually single anyone out for this given just how well Hamilton have been doing. stephen-hendrie-hamilton-accies-scottish-premiership_3231754The whole team has played a part in this magnificent season so to single out an individual for any criticism wouldn’t be very fair. Fans have however been a little disappointed with the form of young defender Stephen Hendrie. A player with so much potential he should be thriving in this league but he has struggled at times. He is still very much at the development stage of his career though and it is natural for young players to go through bad patches.

Promising Youngster – Hamilton do one thing very, very well and that is produce talented young footballers. The setup at New Douglas Park has worked wonders in the last few years and shows no signs of stopping. 323208-eamonn-brophy-hamilton-acciesIt is difficult to single out one youngster from the Hamilton team at the moment because most of the young players have been playing regularly for a few seasons now due to Hamilton blooding youngsters very early. One player that has yet to be given a real chance in the first team is Eamonn Brophy. The 18-year-old has been putting in some brilliant performances for the Hamilton development team and he is scoring goals for fun. It is only a matter of time before he gets his chance to shine.

Christmas Verdict – What else is there to say other than Hamilton have been the most impressive team in Scotland this year in terms of team performances and maintaining a level of form that even the most optimistic Hamilton fan would have never dreamed of. Can they keep it up? It will be a huge ask but they are surely doing enough to challenge for a top six finish and possibly more.

July Prediction – 12th

New Prediction – 5th

 

 

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It is safe to say that Inverness Caley Thistle are the team that have perfected the art of getting a huge amount out of a small squad and a tight budget. Year after year it looks like the Inverness club might come unstuck given the relatively unglamorous signings they make and the little money that they have to spend. _77279448_10201158However year after year they prove people wrong and manage to churn out really solid performances that have them looking up the table rather than down.

The big worry for fans at the start of the season must have been manager John Hughes. When the former Hibs and Falkirk manager took charge in December 2013 he led Caley on a run of incredibly erratic form that ranged from the distinctly average to the utterly abysmal in terms of performances and results. It must have sent alarm bells ringing for supporters with many of them questioning the ability and long-term future for Hughes.

Testament to Hughes then as Inverness turned up for this season refreshed, reorganised and just a hell of a lot better than they were towards the end of last season. Caley lost just twice in their opening eleven matches, a run that propelled them towards the top of the league. 1748118435The campaign also started with five clean sheets in a row, something that highlighted their consistent back line (more on them below).

Inverness Caley have maybe been a tad shot shy compared to some other teams in the top six this season but their resolute defence has ensured that more often than not they manage to get results.

In the League Cup Inverness had the task of travelling to Ibrox in September to play Rangers but they left with a 1-0 loss and by all accounts it was possibly one of their poorest performances of the season so far. The Scottish Cup has provided a bit more in the way of positive results and they are set to take on Partick Thistle in the 5th round.

JS45118195John Hughes has managed to turn many fans around with the performances so far this year and he will be pleased at the way his team are once again performing well despite only making a couple of signings since the summer. Hughes is a big fan of possession football so maybe it needed time for this philosophy to be bedded in at Caley, possibly explaining their results last season.

Form has taken a slight knock in the past month and there are some tricky fixtures coming up over the festive period but Caley have enough about them to continue doing what they do best.

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Inverness could lose Graeme Shinnie in January.

Top Performer – When you look at the stats for Inverness so far this season you can see exactly why they have been impressive at the back. Goalkeeper Dean Brill and defenders David Raven, Graeme Shinnie and Josh Meekings have all played in every single Premiership match this season (fellow defender Gary Warren has only missed one game). This kind of consistency breeds confidence and helps the rest of the team. So for the top performer so far (and this is a total cheat) it goes to the entire back four of Caley. Okay so that isn’t one player but to be honest it is a case of the back four being greater than the sum of its parts. That isn’t a disrespectful dig at any of the Caley players, they are all excellent defenders, but it would be a worry for fans if this back four is taken apart.

Must do Better – This is a strange nomination given just how good this player has been for Caley. Every side needs a good goal scorer and Billy McKay is that player. 317245-billy-mckayFor the last few seasons he has been scoring goals for fun in the Scottish Premiership but this season things have been a little different. It might be down to the change in style of football that Inverness play under Hughes but it shouldn’t be. It might be a confidence thing or it might just be one of those footballing mysteries. Whatever it is the Northern Ireland internationalist has been like a different player this season and the goals have dried up. McKay is still the talisman for the Inverness frontline but he really needs to start hitting the back of the net again.

Promising Youngster – Ryan Christie without a shadow of a doubt. The son of Inverness legend Charlie is the real deal.Untitled At 19 he has had to wait for his chance in the Inverness team but he has grabbed that chance this season. He has recently found himself on the prestigious ‘In Bed with Maradona – 100 for 2015’ list that aims to showcase new footballing talent from around the globe and he has also kick-started his international career this year. A real shining light he is a player that might not be at the club for too much longer if he continues to develop in that way many people think he should.

Christmas Verdict – Admittedly it has been a little surprising to see ICT perform as well as they have so far this season. They have though shown once again that they can produce consistent performances and it looks like they will be a fixture in the top six for the majority of the season. If McKay can get scoring again they could be pushing for Europe.

July Prediction – 6th

New Prediction – 4th

 

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Kilmarnock are a strange team to try and sum up. For most clubs in the league you can pick out things that are either right or wrong straight away but with Killie it seems as though on the park and off the park they are still very much in a state of limbo and have been for some time.

Allan-JohnstonAllan Johnston started his second season in charge at Rugby Park like a band making that ‘difficult second album’. He had made a few signings over the summer and come August he had a chance to really make his mark on this Kilmarnock team. After a fairly uninspiring first season in charge the pressure was on Johnston to now show his true worth. Fans are always willing to give a new manager a year to bed in (in particular if budgets are being cut) but season two is different.

Kilmarnock kicked things off with a 1-1 draw at newly promoted Dundee and the performance in that game has set the tempo for much of the season. During the match Killie showed that they can play decent football and pass the ball about reasonably well but when it comes to killing teams off or maintaining a good level of performance for 90 minutes then things start to fall apart a little.

_77147398_killie1Johnston’s team have been very much up and down since August and they are the masters at getting a few decent results strung together and then all of a sudden losing all momentum. They are currently in 8th place with a record of 6 wins and 8 losses showing just how inconsistent they have been.

Fans have been unhappy at the way Johnston sets his teams out and the complete lack of any goalscoring threat. An average of one goal a game is not going to get you anywhere fast. More worryingly is that fans are voicing their concern that Johnston (and the club) don’t seem to have kind of plan at the moment. There is no long-term vision for the club and that is turning fans away. You could argue that Kilmarnock don’t have any real identity at the moment. You can look at other teams in the league and spot what they are trying to do but with Killie that isn’t the case.

1330_0eb1ebThe real concern at Kilmarnock is still what is happening off the pitch. For fans of the club this has been a really tough few years and that continues this season as arguments about finances, player’s bonuses, boardroom members and the investment in the youth structure have all been on the agenda since the summer. There are supporters who are genuinely worried about the long-term future of this club and the apathy amongst the fans is growing.

Top Performer – It isn’t easy picking someone from this Kilmarnock team given they have been so inconsistent. MarkConnollyThe best of an up and down bunch has to be Irish defender Mark Connolly. The central defender arrived in the summer from Crawley Town and he has looked assured and consistent and the back, something many of his teammates could learn from. If his excellent form continues then Kilmarnock might have a hard job of keeping hold of him.

Must do Better – In a season like this there are more than a couple of contenders for this. There have been many critics of goalkeeper Craig Samson this year and many of the summer signings have made little impact but Manuel Pascali wins this category. UntitledHaving been at the club since 2008 there will be supporters who see Pascali as being a bit of a legend at Kilmarnock but it is looking like his time is close to being up. At 33 he is beginning to show his age and he has caused more than a few problems for his team this year.

Promising Youngster – A player who earlier in the season became a bit of a ‘YouTube sensation’. Young striker Robbie Muirhead was playing for the Scotland Under-19s against Norway in October when he hit a stunning 40-yard strike with his left foot into the top corner. Robbie-Muirhead-e1413211403799Something special from a player who, at 18, has broken into the Kilmarnock first team. Many supporters are concerned that Muirhead has been playing out of position under Johnston and they are also concerned that he will be leaving sooner rather than later unless things improve at the club. For his own development he must be treated the way he deserves.

Christmas Verdict – Allan Johnston faces a tough few months ahead. Fans are beginning to voice their concerns more regularly and there are teams in and around Kilmarnock who are possibly in a better position moving forward into the second half of the season. They won’t go down but things are looking bleak at Rugby Park.

July Prediction – 8th

New Prediction – 10th

 

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Third, second, second. That is how Motherwell’s record looks over the past three seasons. Impressive stuff considering they are a club who’s budget has been slashed year on year for some time now. Like most other clubs in Scotland they have had to re-asses their financial structure but unlike other clubs they have managed to consistently produce the goods needed to compete at the very top of the table.

Fans of the Fir Park club approached this season like they had done the previous few. They knew the club was reducing its budget, they knew that a few of the bigger names would have to leave the club and they knew that Stuart McCall would yet again try to get the best out of their tight squad. McCall was beginning his third full season in charge and was facing many of the same battles that he had faced before.

Motherwell’s season started earlier than most as they kicked off their European campaign in late July. iThey faced Stjarnan of Iceland in the Europa League second qualifying round. It was a tie they were hopeful of winning but that they somehow managed to throw away in the most unbelievable of circumstances. Winning 2-1 at home they managed to concede a 92nd minute penalty that was converted by the Icelandic side. In the away leg they played well and managed to take the lead twice but again transpired to throw things away. V5-140729436The game finished 2-2 so extra-time beckoned and another slice of Motherwell bad luck struck as Atli Jóhannsson of Stjarnan struck the winner deep into extra-time.

You would think that a confidence blow like that might dishearten a team but Motherwell did win their first game of the season against St.Mirren. However that 1-0 victory was a small highlight in what has been an utterly disastrous season so far. That might sound harsh but it is true. The fact that Motherwell have only won four games all season (including the cups) proves just how bad things have been.

stuart mccallIn the first few months of the season it was a mixture of a real lack of goals and a horrific defensive record but it was also partly down to poor management by McCall. That poor management cost McCall his job as he resigned in November after five straight defeats. Despite being one of Motherwell’s best ever managers it was time for everyone to move on. Kenny Black took temporary charge but lost out on the fulltime position as Englishman Ian Baraclough was offered the job in mid-December.

Baraclough was a vastly experienced player and has had some brief success as a coach and manager. He has his work cut out with Motherwell as he attempts to salvage this disaster of a season. 1377680-29549951-1600-900With a squad that contains a top goalscorer on 4 goals and a team in -15 goal difference he has a difficult task ahead of him.

Motherwell are another Scottish club trying to sort their future out off the field and there have been movements made to ensure that the club are secure in the long-term. Financial backer Les Hutchison has set plans in motion that will eventually give Motherwell fans the opportunity to control their own club in a few years time. Fan ownership is something that many football supporters want so it will be interesting to see if Motherwell can make it work.

Top Performer – This is pretty easy. Henrik-Ojamaa-Estonia-Bisa-Mengalahkan-Inggris-700x314In a squad that contains more than a few underperformers there is one shining light in Henrik Ojamaa. He of course was previously with Motherwell and was adored by fans (and admired by everyone else). In his second spell with the club, he is easily one of the best attacking talents in the league. He is actually only on loan until January so the most pressing need for the new Motherwell manager must be to try to extend his loan deal from Legia Warsaw

Must do Better – Is it okay to pick the whole Motherwell team? Probably not. Therefore the person to be singled out here is defender Simon Ramsden. JS52387885The 33 year-old missed the start of the season through injury but it is safe to say that many Motherwell fans are wishing that he was still missing. He has had a very poor season and has cost his team on numerous occasions. A new manager coming in will hopefully improve his form and the form of the whole squad.

lee-erwin-lee-erwin-motherwell-scottish-premiership_3187884Promising Youngster – Not much to choose from here really. A mixture of younger players not really impressing and others not being given a chance means that there are only a couple of options when it comes to picking a promising youngster from this Motherwell squad. The player who looks like he might be one to look out for is young striker Lee Erwin. Despite not playing too often height be the type of player that will be given a chance to prove his worth under the new manager.

Christmas Verdict – Lets just forget the last few months shall we? A decision was made by the club and by Stuart McCall to move on and start again. That means that for fans this season will simply now be about avoiding relegation (they won’t be relegated) and laying down foundations for next year. Is Baraclough the man to change it all around? He is certainly saying the right things and seems positive about the future for his new side.

July Prediction – 4th

New Prediction – 9th

The final roundup will be posted tomorrow and will feature Partick, Ross County, St.Johnstone and St.Mirren.

Scottish Football 2014/15 – Inverness Caledonian Thistle

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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. billy-mckay-inverness-caledonian-thistle_3054655In 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. Ryan-Christie-ICT_3124984Currently 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