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Dodds was a symptom of Caley Thistle's problems - and this is their last chance to fix them


hislopsoffsideagain

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 Maybe it was the realisation that Billy Dodds couldn't even beat Raith Rovers that was the end of him.


For what it's worth, Caley Thistle only lost to a late goal away from home to a club who went top of the Championship as a result of their victory. And by all accounts the visitors put on their best performance of the season and squandered numerous chances of their own. But Inverness had this absolutely mental record against Rovers where in twenty-three years and thirty-four competitive matches their only defeats had come in penalty shootouts. However bad it got, Raith Rovers was at least a guaranteed point. But not any more.



Of course, if that was the actual reason for Dodds' dismissal on Sunday night then that would raise significant questions about the people running the club. But then choosing to sack him after the Raith defeat - rather than after one of the many worse performances and results in recent months - raises enough questions. As does the fact that he is only three months into a new two year contract that he was given after ICT's Scottish Cup Final defeat to Celtic.


Oh, and don't forget how the decision on Dodds' future was left all the way until after that match in early June, which was not exactly a show of confidence in the manager and which can hardly have aided preparations for the new season. Or how, despite the club making somewhere between £1million and £1.5million from the aforementioned cup run, the squad actually seems, on paper and in reality, drastically weaker than it was last season.


That's not to suggest that Dodds is some sort of victim here. The cup exploits distracted neatly from a lacklustre league campaign as Caley Thistle finished sixth, their lowest finish in twenty-three years (though had they won their last match they would have come third). Whilst some of the criticism of his tactics by supporters was over-the-top, the slow-tempo, possession-based style was exposed by teams that pressed high up the pitch - after all the Scottish Championship is often short of quality but rarely short of energy - and was ineffective when chasing games against defensive-minded teams.


But Dodds' first season in charge ended with a playoff final where, at half-time in the second leg in Perth, Caley Thistle fancied their chances of promotion before a second-half capitulation to St. Johnstone. He was not the next Sir Alex Ferguson, but nor was he the next Richie Foran. Sometimes things just go stale; his tenure of more than two seasons is well above the current average shelflife of an SPFL manager.


The biggest concerns stretch back to his appointment in the first place. In March 2021 Dodds was brought in as a coach by Neil McCann, who had taken over temporarily after John Robertson stepped out of the dugout for mental health reasons. When it became clear Robertson was 'moving upstairs' to become sporting director, it was McCann's job if he wanted it...but he didn't want it. A few weeks later Dodds was appointed, to the surprise of nobody even though he had never held such a role at a club before. There was certainly nothing in the public domain to suggest the club had conducted an active search for a replacement or even interviewed outside candidates. This left the feeling that Dodds, who already lived locally, was the cheap and easy option. This turn of events felt very reminiscent of Robertson's appointment as Richie Foran's replacement back in 2017.


It also leads to understandable suspicion amongst the support that Robertson - whose relationship with the fans has taken a hit recently with his media work for the BBC (or to give out man of the match awards at Brora Rangers) when his club are away from home - will simply be parachuted back in to his old job.


That would be the cheap and easy move again, but then we come to the fear that this is the way the board have to go. The aforementioned cup windfall seems to have been used to save the directors from paying the bills this season; that is not all that unreasonable given the club made a loss of more than £800,000 in 2021-22. There are lots of rumours flying around suggesting that things are even worse than that, though to be fair such tales have done the rounds since relegation from the Premiership in 2017.


There is no sign of a wealthy benefactor coming over the horizon any time soon, and when one looks at the list of current shareholders the same old names from two decades ago are still there. Directors come and go but there is no sign that newcomers bring about any meaningful change; the most curious one in recent times is Panos Thomas, a retired orthopaedic surgeon whose only notable role in football previously was as the frontman for an attempted takeover of Watford more than a decade ago by the disgraced businessman Laurence Bassini.


However in his nine months at the club there has been no sign of anything so exciting happening in the Highlands...except for claims in the last set of accounts that the club is heavily involved in a hydro pump scheme and a battery farm plan, as well as being in position to be part of Inverness' upcoming freeport. If these ideas already sound pie-in-the-sky, the fact they are being touted by CEO Scot Gardiner - who is not exactly well loved amongst Dundee and Hearts supporters for his spells in a similar role at each of these clubs - does not lend them significant credibility.


And in football financial prudence is rarely rewarded. One has to run just to stand still. Amongst their Championship opponents are Dundee United, Dunfermline, Ayr United, Queen's Park and Raith, all of whom have significant backing from their ownership.


And if Caley Thistle go any further backward it means relegation. That would surely put their full-time status at risk. If the club goes part-time then, given their location, that would in turn surely mean competing for players in the same sort of pool that the likes of Elgin City fish. There would be no realistic way back to even the Championship under those circumstances.


In October 2016, St. Mirren pulled the plug on Alex Rae after a nightmare start to their Championship campaign and replaced him with Jack Ross. They still nearly went down that year, but it was the wakeup call they needed. In 2017-18 they were promoted and they have been Premiership stalwarts ever since, a small club punching above their weight in a way rather reminiscent of Caley Thistle a decade ago. Maybe - hopefully - this will be Caley Thistle's St. Mirren moment. Those in charge of the club need to make sure it is, or football in the city may never be the same again.


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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