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Caley Thistle: Promotion or bust?

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Okay, so in terms of finances the headline is just an eensy weensy bit OTT. Inverness Caley Thistle should have enough cash to get through the season. And given that a club of the size of Queen of the South can still manage to stay full-time there's not really any likelihood of ICT having to go part-time in the near future.

Still, they have suffered losses of £2m in the last three years - £400,000 in the 2016/17 relegation campaign and £800,000 in each of the last two seasons. That's really quite a lot of money.

Worse, last season's figures did not improve despite a run to the Scottish Cup semi-finals, a league finish two places higher than in 2017/18 and a few high earners being moved on.

Hence an EGM in September which was essentially a (successful) plea for directors and local businessmen and allies of the club to stump up some cash to cover any shortfall for the rest of the current campaign.

On the pitch things are at least a bit rosier. ICT lie second in the Championship. The title and automatic promotion are now out of reach; Dundee United are approximately a gazillion points clear and would still win the division if they put Csaba Laszlo back in charge for the remaining matches. However the Highlanders have a juicy ten point cushion over fifth place and are in pole position to get the bye week for the promotion playoffs whilst the third- and fourth-placed sides joust. That in itself would improve their chances of going up.

But now it's January, so clubs are sniffing around players whose contracts expire in the summer. As one of the Championship's better sides, it's no surprise that there is interest in Caley Thistle's players. And with the chances of going up still not especially high - four out of six playoff finals have been won by the Premiership side - it's also no surprise that the players are interested in moves to Premiership clubs.

Central defender Coll Donaldson, a Dundee United dud rebuilt in Inverness, has talked to Ross County. St. Johnstone have been linked with his fellow defenders Jamie McCart and Shaun Rooney. McCart is still only 22 and has impressed since joining from Celtic. Rooney had underwhelmed at Queen of the South before signing but has improved exponentially over the last year into a powerful, athletic attacking right-back.

According to reports, at least two more players have suitors. One is almost certainly winger Tom Walsh, whose season has been interrupted by hamstring problems but who is outstanding at getting half a yard on his man and whipping in a cross with either foot. The other may be Jordan White, the archetypal Big Man Up Front. He is apparently wanted by Motherwell, though I have no idea why.

That's essentially half a team that are very likely to leave in the summer...or sooner than that. Inverness signed Falkirk defender Lewis Toshney last week in a move that could well be covering Donaldson joining County during this window.

That's not to say the players left behind are all hopeless. Sean Welsh is one of the best midfielders in the league but is also made of glass. James Keatings is a good attacker for this level. Mark Ridgers offers a reliable pair of hands between the sticks.

But rebuilding this team, and almost certainly with an even tighter budget, would be some undertaking. As Falkirk have recently shown, a big turnover of players can go spectacularly wrong.

It is quite remarkable that, three years into their current stay in the Championship, Caley Thistle have their best chance to get out of it. If they can't take it, it would be even more remarkable if another one came around any time soon.

Lawrie Spence has whinged about Scottish football on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007. He has a life outside this blog. Honestly

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