Danube to Dunfermline
Inverness face Dunfermline on Tuesday night in the League Cup stages where it's getting to the point where only a win will be sufficient to keep us in the competition.
Alternative Maryhill looks ahead to this clash, a far cry from one year ago in the scorching heat on the banks of the Danube.
For the second year in a row, Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s players find themselves facing a hazardous trip to a post-Communist wasteland needing an away win to avoid elimination from a major trophy before the league season has even begun. Last July it was Giurgiu, Romania; this July, it is West Fife.
Despite an opening win against Cowdenbeath and a draw on Saturday against Dundee Utd, ICT already find themselves trailing the Dundee club by three points and Dunfermline by two in the Scottish League Cup Group C league table, having played the same number of games as Dunfermline and one fewer than Utd. Thanks to Utd’s comprehensive win over Cowdenbeath, however, they also boast a goal difference that is four superior to Caley Thistle’s. With only the group winners and four best runners-up progressing to the knock-out stages of the tournament, then realistically, Richie Foran’s men must assume they will have to win both remaining fixtures in order to progress, beginning on Tuesday at East End Park.
While the two fixtures ICT have already played may not have yielded as many goals or points as hoped for, they have provided reasons for optimism. The more direct attacking style promised by Foran is already in evidence, with loan signing Billy King proving a handful for the Dundee Utd defence in Saturday’s game, and Jake Mulraney having looked quick, tricky and eager to take on opponents in each of his second-half substitute appearances. Kevin McNaughton, covering for the injured Josh Meekings, offers great game-awareness and composure and looks as comfortable in the middle of the defence as he does in his preferred full back position. Foran must also be grateful to have retained the core of Tansey, Draper and Warren, players who have long since proven themselves to be among the best in Scotland in their positions, and who were typically committed and industrious in the two games to date. If there is an area in the team that still seems to be lacking, it is up front: Scott Boden did well to set up Ross Draper for his goal against Cowdenbeath and to head the opener in the Dundee Utd game, but ideally, if the chances that the likes of King, Mulraney and Polworth are capable of creating are to be converted, then Foran will hope to bring in a slightly more mobile option up front, either to partner or alternate with Boden.
Dunfermline’s supporters and management are also justified in feeling optimistic about the season ahead, however. Promoted as champions from League One to the Championship, they have got off to a flyer in the League Cup with three-goal victories against Arbroath and Cowdenbeath, and although they will feel the loss of their talented forward Faisal El Bakhtaoui, they still have a proven goalscorer up front in Michael Moffat as well as Andy Geggan providing goals from midfield – three in the two League Cup games so far. Over the summer, the Pars have added ex-Kilmarnock and Partick forward Kallum Higginbotham, a rumoured ICT signing target, ex-Kilmarnock defender Lee Ashcroft, also a scorer against Cowdenbeath on Saturday, young Celtic striker Paul McMullan on loan, and of course, our own man-mountainous, if somewhat ponderous, Nat Wedderburn, who should help to shore up the midfield. With the addition of so many players with Premiership experience, it is clear that Dunfermline are looking to mount a serious challenge in what should be a highly competitive Championship this season.
Being of a more cautious and perhaps pessimistic cast of mind than our previous previewer, I'm not going to offer a result or scoreline prediction; I will predict, however, that this will be a tough game, and another close one. Richie Foran's ICT side and philosophy may still be taking shape, but already we look like a hard-working and well-organised side that will not lie down to anybody, but also, for the moment, a side that struggles somewhat to convert chances. Hopefully Tuesday will be the day when that starts to change.