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Caley Thistle are collapsing towards relegation



Legend has it that Harold MacMillan, Prime Minister in the late nineteen-fifties, was once asked what is most likely to blow a government off course and replied "events, dear boy, events!"

As in politics, so in life. And so in football, at least in Inverness. Make no mistake: Caley Thistle, their players and those who run the club have significant responsibility for their current plight too, but it has taken a perfect storm of factors, many of which are out of anyone's control, to leave them where they are - in extreme danger of plummeting into League One.

At first, it looked like lockdown might be a boon for the Highlanders.

ICT were second in the Championship when play stopped in March 2020, albeit miles adrift of Dundee United. Whilst holding onto that second spot was hardly a given in a very close division there were grounds to expect a top four finish and another shot at the promotion playoffs. But when the season was called early talk turned to 'reconstruction' and the possibility of expanding the Premiership to fourteen clubs and keeping Hearts in the top tier. Inverness would have been the beneficiaries of the need for an even number of participants.

So how do you get from there to freefall in such a short space of time?

Last summer was always going to require a rebuild - Shaun Rooney, Carl Tremarco, Charlie Trafford, Tom Walsh and Jordan White left, following Coll Donaldson and Jamie McCart last January - and recruitment was going to be tough anyway given the club's tight finances. Add in the money lost because of Covid, and travel restrictions - try selling the prospect of not seeing friends and family for months to potential new signings - and in hindsight John Robertson did remarkably well to tempt Robbie Deas, Scott Allardice and Wallace Duffy north. It also explains why the team are rather more reliant on Shane Sutherland (who returned to full-time football after years at Elgin and Peterhead) and Daniel Devine (whose partner is from Aviemore) than a club with promotion aspirations should be.

The coup de grace was the arrival on loan of winger Kai Kennedy from Rangers. Kennedy had good and bad days - as all young wide players do - but he particularly shone in a 3-0 win in Dumfries live on TV on a Friday night. By January, he was gone; the reason - homesickness - a stark example of the difficulties that people face in these trying times. In a division where the majority of clubs have four or more loan players boosting squad depth, Caley Thistle are unique in currently having none.

But in that victory away to Queen of the South and another at home to Raith Rovers the week before, ICT were impressive and dominant, looking every inch like a side who would be in the promotion playoff mix. Since then they have won just one of twelve matches.

Kennedy's departure was supposed to be compensated for by the arrival of former Hearts youth Anthony McDonald but he picked up an injury before even playing a game and had surgery last week. A thin squad - even more so because Kevin McHattie, Lewis Toshney and Aaron Doran were frequently in the treatment room - has been stretched further after a run of postponements has left them with a hectic two-games-a-week schedule for February and March. Those matches were supposed to produce momentum for a surge up the table but the opposite has been true, with tired players low on confidence struggling against fresher, buoyed opposition. Nine midweek matches have been played this season in all competitions, the opposition (Cowdenbeath, Raith, Dunfermline, Morton twice, Arbroath, Alloa, Queen of the South and Dundee) hardly overwhelming. Inverness have not won any of them. They are in action on the next two Tuesdays.

Then there's the problems in the dugout, with the double blow of first losing assistant manager Scott Kellacher to serious illness and then the need for manager Robertson to take compassionate leave following a bereavement with no return date timetabled. Only a fortnight in, all but the first twenty minutes of interim replacement Neil McCann's tenure has been horrendous, with a promising draw with Hearts followed up by limp defeat at Dundee, a rather undeserved draw at bottom-of-the-table Alloa and then another loss at home to Morton (who had been winless in ten!).

McCann has come into a rough situation, but as many feared he has insisted on using the blueprint that didn't work especially well for him when he was in charge at Dens Park. Playing out from the back is a risky strategy with elite players. With Championship players on Championship pitches it becomes especially dicey. To insist on it in driving wind and rain, as was the case in the Morton match, is insane. There are already worrying parallels to be drawn with John Hughes' infamous spell in charge of Raith a few years back where his insistence on a similar style with a struggling side led to disaster.

There is an awful lot for the supporters to be frustrated with - and that's before we even get to the lousy online streams they've had to pay for this season, including the national embarrassment of the Pixellot camera system which couldn't tell the difference between a football and a linesman's head. It is hard to make watching Caley Thistle more painful just now is having to view it through Pixellot just about manages to do so.

The last two seasons have seen two full-time clubs - Falkirk and Partick Thistle - suffer an almighty collapse and drop into League One. Don't bet against Caley Thistle following them there.

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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