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  1. If you know your History Friday night Footie returns to the Highlands with a bang as new club The Rangers visit the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium for the first time in their short history, the game kicking off at 19:45. They have made a meteoric rise to fame since their inception, climbing through the leagues in four years and getting to the final of the Scottish Cup. It's a touch of Gretna revisited. Unfortunately for them, like Gretna they also failed to win the cup at the hands of an Edinburgh club. They do look pretty slick though, having tailored their needs for each division as they made their way into the Premiership and they now have a squad capable of challenging most with Mark Warburton leading the way. Richie Foran has been named Manager of the Month for September after turning the fortunes of his slow starters around. However, we all know the repercussions of the curse of the Manager of the Month. Sounds like an adventure from Scooby Doo. Yikes! Come to think of it, have you ever seen Richie Foran and Shaggy in the same room? Me neither. Immortal Howden Ender has given us this fabulous whirlwind history lesson to rival Charlie Bannerman's Against All Odds This could be entitled the Inaugural meeting of the “Young Firm” of Scottish football. Both teams having painful and traumatic experiences in the not too distant past. Both teams are lamenting and many still grieving for the teams that they did support, whose existence was sadly terminated. Caley were even called “The Rangers of the North”. Caledonian Thistle F.C. was formed in August 1994 by the merger of Caledonian and Inverness Thistle who had been members of the Highland Football League since 1885.The league restructured in 1994 to four divisions of ten teams each. The merged clubs were elected in to the Scottish Third Division. The club's name was amended to Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C. in 1996 at the request of Inverness District Council. Many still refer to the team as Caley or Thistle. They rose through the divisions at some speed, given their finances and many teams trying to halt their rise, especially when initially promoted to the SPL. The original Rangers came into existence in 1872, 13 years before the Inverness giants. The Rangers Football Club PLC entered liquidation on 31 October 2012. Sevco Scotland Ltd later changed its name to The Rangers Football Club Ltd. The new team, The Rangers FC started off life, akin to ICT, in the Scottish Third Division in the 2012-2013 season, a mere 18 years after Inverness. Due to their superior finances they climbed the leagues far quicker than ICT and made it this season. So Inverness Caledonian Thistle and The Rangers FC take to the park to on Friday 14th October 2016 in the first ever league meeting between the two clubs. Sadly I suspect that there may be as many old Caley and Thistle diehards (and their families) in the Rangers End as there are in the Main Stand and The North Stand. The two previous outcomes of meetings between the new clubs have been Scottish League Cup affairs. Inverness hammering Rangers 3-0 at Ibrox in October 2012 and Rangers scraping a fortunate 1-0 win in September 2014. In their history Inverness have only met the old Rangers team in League encounters and, at home, it does not make good reading with Rangers winning 8 and Inverness 1 and two drawn. The only ICT win was in December 2006 (Live on Setanta Sports !!) and the match was an all ticket SELL OUT. Nacho Novo scored for Rangers from the penalty spot (Craig Thompson was at it even then) before Darren Dods equalised. And many will recall the winner screamed in by John Rankin in the last minute. And we all had a fleeting look at the wondrous SEBO. We have a better record at Ibrox, winning three and drawing four of the thirteen encounters. My own personal lasting memory has to be the injury time penalty winner by Iain Black in March 2009. And Zjebi-Zadi was MotM and David Proctor won the penalty, drawing a foul from Davie Weir who was sent off. And Rangers were frightened by the pace of Dougie Imrie and Eric Odhiambo. It was fair rocking in “Brechins” that night. Going back to the Howden End days memories fade back to 18 February 1984 when the mighty old club known as Rangers visited Telford Street Park on Scottish Cup duty. A crowd of 5,500 packed in to watch Rangers win 6-0. Somebody called McCoist scored a brace that day and somebody called Billy Urquhart played against his old team. He should have stayed in Wigan !! I fail to recall any great Inverness Thistle v Rangers encounters although that was probably reserved for Brora Rangers. And finally on the trip down memory lane – we simply can’t leave out the initial Scottish Cup meeting with the old Rangers. A quarter final moved to the “neutral” ground of Tannadice Park in Dundee, on the 9th of March 1996. A crowd of 11,296 was in attendance (an estimated 5,000 from Sneck) when Rangers were the “visitors”. Rangers won 3-0, with Brian Thomson scoring an own goal and a certain Paul Gascoigne hitting a double. I can only suggest that you read the account made by Pele Paterson in his book “Confessions of a Highland Hero” - “We were Third Division and they were Champions”. That was one feckin hoore of a weekend. Hopefully the thought of the forthcoming Betfred Cup tie with Celtic will be a distraction and the Joey Barton debacle lingers on and on. Rumours are rife that Joey has put a pony on Inverness winning 2-1. That is certainly worth a wee gamble although it is unclear whether he is purely doing this out of churlish malice. Rangers have had what only can be described as an inconsistent start to the season and are clearly struggling to identify a starting eleven. The Central Belt Bluenoses however appear confident that Rangers have a clearer starting XI and expect to line up in a 4-3-3 formation. Wes Foderingham should keep his place in goals ahead of veteran Matt Gilks. James Tavernier and Lee Wallace will start in the two full-back positions. Rob Kiernan missed the last few games with an injury but looks likely to start. Kiernan and Wilson appear to have claimed the first-choice centre-back pairing (unfortunately) despite the arrival of experienced but aging duo of Clint Hill and Philippe Senderos. Andy Halliday should start in defensive midfield with Joey Barton missing (or running scared of Ross Draper). Jason Holt provides a lot of energy in the middle of the park and should keep his place whilst Niko Kranjcar impressed against the Plastic Whistle. Kenny Miller is likely to start up front as the target man with Martyn Waghorn operating as the wide forward from the right. Barrie McKay, to me the big danger, will keep his place on the left. If that is the Rangers line up then we need to go wide and offensive. Both Wallace and Tavernier are prone to leave their defensive duties and will leave space up front. Personally I would go with Fisher up front, if he has shaken off his knock, rather than Doumbuoya. Keep Draper “in the hole” behind him Tansey and Polworth to hold central midfield. I have not been impressed by Tansey this season but this is a “shop window” and I expect him to put in a MotM performance. Two wide players are a must and it looks like it will be Mulraney and King to start with. The back five pick themselves. McKay and Tremarco will be tested by McKay (need to check with CaleyD about the spelling). We certainly went backwards at Hamilton but escaped with a point, leaving us on a 5 game unbeaten run. That has led to Richie Foran being awarded the coveted Manager of the Month Award. Let’s hope that his lucky shamrock can ward off the curse that the award has placed on previous ICT Managers. And a 2-0 win would take us into the Top Six and ahead of Rangers on goal difference. But three points and a scabby one goal win will suffice. Shaggy Richie looks ahead to the game........
  2. Matchday One at Firhill Saturday afternoon in Maryhill, under the twisted leer of Kingsley and assorted Buckied freeloaders on the canal towpath, sees the first match of Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s 2016-17 Scottish Premiership campaign, and another new chapter in the club’s already rich history well and truly underway. From the opening paragraph, you might have detected that Altenative Maryhill is the author of this Preview. Opinion among the Inverness support was divided, sometimes fiercely, over John Hughes’ recruitment, tactics and management style last season, but while his eventual departure was mourned by some and celebrated by others, the majority of ICT supporters seemed to welcome the announcement of club captain Richie Foran as his successor. Naturally, however, questions were raised: would Foran still be too close to the players to command the respect of his squad in his new role? Would he have the profile, contacts and scouting network to attract a decent quality of player to the club? Would he be able to develop a playing style that was more attractive and effective than the latterly much-criticised, but overall largely successful, approach adopted by Hughes? Would his lack of experience tell in periods of adversity and increased pressure? Was the board’s awarding of a four-year management contract to an existing employee simply the cheap option? Obviously, these are very early days, and it will be some time before we can say confidently that all these questions have been answered, but the signs so far are very promising indeed. Foran in his early interviews, while acknowledging the benefits Hughes’ playing philosophy had brought the players, promised a return to a more direct, attacking style of football which would yield more chances and goals, and this commitment was reflected in the signings of striker Scott Boden from Newport and winger Jake Mulraney from Queen’s Park Rangers on three- and two-year deals respectively, and the recruitment of Billy King, a winger with significant Scottish top-flight experience, on loan from Hearts. Meanwhile, the signing of Kevin McNaughton, a Scottish international with 201 appearances for Aberdeen and almost 300 for Cardiff City, seemed to suggest that Foran could indeed attract players of quality to the club. The real hope, however, has come from the team’s performances on the field, in the Betfred Cup group stages. In the first two games, against Cowdenbeath and Dundee Utd, the team’s play sometimes lacked fluency, and there was a failure to capitalise on final balls, but Foran’s avowed attacking intent was evident in King’s frequent threatening runs and particularly in the pace and trickery exhibited by Mulraney in his two second half substitute appearances, while Kevin McNaughton, deputising at centre half for the injured Josh Meekings, strolled through the games, showing his class and experience. With the promotion of Mulraney to the starting line-up against Dunfermline, Foran’s team clicked as an attacking force. While a positive and combative Pars side caused Caley Thistle problems in the first half, defensively they simply could not cope with Jake Mulraney, and where chances had been squandered in the previous two games, here the Inverness attackers were clinical, with Iain Vigurs claiming the perfect hat-trick from an advanced midfield role, King being rewarded for his willingness to run at players and shoot on spec with a deflection that brought another goal, and even left-back Carl Tremarco getting in on the act after being first to the rebound from a Greg Tansey free kick. The pattern continued in last Saturday’s 7-0 trouncing of Arbroath: Vigurs, King and Tremarco, with an unlikely brace, all found the net again; Scott Boden provided even more cause for optimism, with a well-taken hat-trick; and despite not being on the scoresheet, the man of the match, by common acclaim, was Mulraney, who already looks to be a gem of a signing. In terms of style and recruitment Foran is already beginning to answer the questions posed when he took over, and those who doubt whether he may be able to command and motivate players, and make difficult and unpopular choices, may be encouraged by the apparent increase in the fitness and work rate of Iain Vigurs, and the surprising decision to leave Ross Draper, a mainstay during the club’s most successful period, on the bench for the games against Dunfermline and Arbroath. Foran has stated that the club is still keen to bring in one or two more players, and most supporters would agree that another, more mobile attacker is needed to either complement or provide an alternative to Boden and Alex Fisher, but with any new deals looking increasingly unlikely before Saturday’s game, Foran’s main area of focus, and the supporters’ main source of intrigue and debate, will be deciding who gets the nod to start against Partick. Will Draper be restored to the team against a side that has frequently overpowered and over-run the ICT midfield in recent seasons, and if so, will it be Polworth, or Mulraney, the man for whom Draper made way, who drops to the bench? Will there be any room for Aaron Doran, finally restored to the squad again against Arbroath, after a year out through injury? How close to fitness is Josh Meekings, and when he is ready to return, will it be in central defence? And if so, does the impressive McNaughton drop out, or does he take one of the full-back roles in place of either fans’ favourite David Raven or the vastly-improved Carl Tremarco? These are, to employ a football cliché, pleasant problems for a manager to have, and the result of the club managing to put and keep together what looks, on paper, like one the strongest first-team squads the club has yet had. Of course, the optimism could yet prove premature; some of the new players, notably Mulraney and Boden, are as-yet untested against Premiership opposition, Partick Thistle are a team that has a strong record against ICT, notwithstanding a 4-0 home defeat to John Hughes’ team in the final weeks of last season, and they too are entitled to feel positive about their prospects this season after a 100% record in the Bedfred Cup group stages, and a summer recruitment programme that looks to have strengthened the first team squad. Chris Erskine, a folk-hero at the club, has returned in midfield after a spell at Dundee Utd where his talents seemed to be squandered by poor management, and has already impressed in with two goals in the Betfred Cup games; Ziggy Gordon, one of Hamilton Accies’ standout players over recent seasons, will be the new first choice at right back, while attacker Ade Azeez apparently rejected a new contract offer at Wimbledon to join the Maryhill club. A Partick recruit more familiar to ICT supporters is Danny Devine, signed to replace highly-rated central defender Danny Seaborne, who rejected a new contract. While Devine was a very useful deputy to Josh Meekings and Gary Warren in his first two seasons in Inverness, his period last season as a first choice centre half, during Meekings’ injury lay-off and then mystifying deployment at right back, revealed some shortcomings in positional sense and decision-making, and while he was perhaps scapegoated by supporters to some extent for defensive frailties that stemmed from the team set-up as a whole, Foran may see him as a potential weak link to be exploited in the Partick defence. Predictably, a recent press interview with Devine, in which he claims to have made a step up in his club career on the grounds that Glasgow is, shock, horror, a bigger city than Inverness, has been used to ramp up the non-existent tension ahead of this interview. Expect blood to flow in the streets of Maryhill. An intriguing and potentially very enjoyable game lies ahead then, and hopefully the interest and positivity around the Foran revolution will see a large and noisy travelling support there to back Inverness. [A quick note to travelling supporters; the underground is off, and the best options for getting to Firhill from the city centre are either to share a taxi, which shouldn’t cost much more than a fiver, or to get a number 60 or 61 bus from the corner of Hope St and Sauchiehall St, to around Queens Cross church on Maryhill Road. Don’t try to go to Maryhill train station – it’s almost as far from the ground in the opposite direction as Queen St is.] It’s hard game to call, and one that I suspect will feature more goals than we’re used to seeing between these sides, but in the spirit of optimism, I’m going to predict a final scoreline of Partick Thistle 2, Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3.
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