Copyright Ian Broadfoot

SPL SAFETY – 2011-12

After nearly making the top six last season 2011-12 was to be disappointing. ICT spent the season in the relegation zone and SPL safety was only assured three games from the end on 2 May 2012. The national game was dominated by the troubles at Rangers and in February 2012 they went into administration. Their future in the Scottish leagues – and the ramifications for the SPL – were the subject of much speculation which would only be clarified in the summer. 

The summer of 2011 saw a massive change in the first team squad including the departure of four players with entries in the top 10 appearance records. Former captain Grant Munro left for Ross County after 13 seasons and 367 appearances. He was joined in Dingwall by Russell Duncan who made 353 appearances for ICT. Roy McBain joined Peterhead after making 342 appearances and Stuart Golabek signed for Highland League side Brora Rangers with 263 appearances in two spells under his belt. Adam Rooney’s 21 goals in 2010-11 had not surprisingly brought him to the attention of the wider football world and after much speculation he signed for Birmingham City. Eric Odhiambo went to Turkish side Denizlispor, Dani Sanchez went down under to New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix FC and Gil Blumenshtein joined Hapoel Ashkelon in his native Israel. Stuart Duff was offered a new contract but decided to move south – he played trial matches for Ayr United before going to Malta’s Qormi. Chris Innes played as a trialist for East Fife but did not join them and in February 2012 he signed for Paul Sheerin’s Arbroath. Alex MacDonald returned to his parent club Burnley after the end of his loan spell.

Trial matches unearth new players

After a series of trial matches new players joined from around Europe on a mixture of contracts and loan deals. Gregory Tade signed from Raith Rovers, Greg Tansey refused a new one year contract at Stockport County to sign for ICT and Thomas Piermayr left his native Austria for Inverness. Norwich City midfielder and Welsh internationalist Owain Tudur Jones signed a one year deal to join ICT after being on loan at Yeovil Town and Brentford and Andrew Shinnie joined his brother Graeme in the squad after being released by Rangers and loan spells at Dundee. Northern Ireland under 21 internationalist Billy Mckay signed from Northampton Town and Josh Meekings arrived after being released by Ipswich Town. Loan deals led to the arrival of Tom Aldred from Watford, David Davis from Wolves, Spaniard Roman Golobart from Wigan and Aiden Chippendale from Huddersfield Town. Tom Aldred’s loan period was cut short and he returned to Watford in August. 

Pre-season matches followed tradition with friendlies in the north plus a visit to Livingston and a long trip to the deep south to play against Yeovil Town, Bristol Rovers and Aldershot. The opening friendly involved a short run to Grant Street Park and a 2-0 win. Then it was 7-0 at Forres, 3-0 at Elgin and 1-0 at Brora. A 1-1 draw at Livingston was a sterner test then it was off south for three games in five days. Yeovil Town were the first opponents at Huish Park and it ended 4-2. Then it was 40 miles north to play Bristol Rovers at Bath City’s ground Twerton Park. This time it was 2-2. The final game of the mini tour was against Aldershot Town at the EBB Stadium and it ended 1-1. Thus ICT remained undefeated over the three matches. There was one more pre season game on 19 July at Buckie. This was a fundraiser to support the charities that helped Daniel Strong, son of Buckie goalkeeper Darren, battle a brain tumour. The 3-3 score was not important but the money raised was vital.

Opening of SPL campaign

The SPL programme started on 23 July at Motherwell – a 3-0 defeat was certainly not a good start. A hard fought home match against Hibs a week later was only decided by a very very late Gary O’Connor goal. A big disappointment after a good performance. With time running out Greg Tansey hit the Hibs post then came the O’Connor goal. ‘Man of the Match’ Ryan Esson had made several excellent saves but somehow O’Connor’s scuffed shot eluded him and the points were lost.

On 6 August it was away to Dunfermline and an exciting game. Twice Dunfermline took the lead and twice ICT equalised. Greg Tansey’s second goal of the afternoon looked like being a winner seven minutes from time but Martin Hardie’s last minute free kick earned the Pars a point. Seven days later there was a disappointing 2-0 home loss to Rangers and on 20 August a 2-1 defeat in Aberdeen. The Scottish Communities League Cup campaign was over almost as soon as it began with a 1-0 defeat away to First Division Ayr United in round two on 24 August. The one bright spot in August was a 2-1 home win against Kilmarnock on the 27th. This victory ensured a move up to eleventh at the end of August. 

August also included wins against Brora Rangers and Halkirk United in the North Cup leading to a place in the final. On 30 August ICT sent a team to Wick to play in a testimonial for long serving midfielder Gary Manson. On a rain soaked Harmsworth pitch ICT won 4-1.

An international break meant just three league games in September. The only point gained was in a 1-1 draw at home to Hearts on the tenth. It took a late Stephen Elliott goal to give Hearts a point. Things did not improve as the other two September league matches ended in defeats – 3-1 away to Dundee United on the 17th despite a strong performance then a week later 2-0 at Celtic Park. It was an injury-hit side that faced Celtic and they did create chances. Celtic were under par but still able to score two first half goals. The only bright spot of the month was winning the North Cup 4-3 at Mosset Park on Sunday 11 September. ICT now sat in twelfth place.

Into October and an improvement with a win, a draw and two defeats. On the first there was a narrow 2-1 home win against St Mirren then two weeks later, after another international break, a visit to Perth ended 2-0 for St Johnstone. On the 22nd Gregory Tade’s 33rd minute goal looked like taking the points at home to Dunfermline but a late penalty goal from former ICT trialist Liam Buchanan led to a 1-1 draw. That just left one match in October – home to Motherwell on the 29th. It was an exciting match with three goals in the last 15 minutes. It was 1-1 at half time then 2-1 to ICT through Andrew Shinnie in 76 minutes. A quick Keith Lasley equaliser then a late Tom Hateley free kick made it 3-2 to Motherwell. Despite gaining four points in October ICT still remained at the foot of the SPL.

Fireworks at Kilmarnock

At Kilmarnock on 5 November there were fireworks and nine goals.  The home side went 1-0 up in 12 minutes but five goals from ICT, including an Andrew Shinnie hat-trick, set up a remarkable victory. In the latter stages Killie got a goal back, Gregory Tade made it 6-2 then in the dying seconds the home side scored a further consolation and it ended 6-3. After a poor run of results this victory put a broad smile on the face of Terry Butcher. At home to Celtic two weeks later Caley Thistle held the visitors for the first half but a red card for Greg Tansey just before the break was a bitter blow. Referee Steven O’Reilly claimed Tansey used an elbow in an aerial challenge with Georgios Samaras – in reality it was a hand and contact was minimal. The red card was rescinded on appeal but that was no help during the match. It was an uphill climb in the second half and two Anthony Stokes goals gave Celtic victory. A close away match against Hearts completed the November programme. No goals in the first half but Rudi Skacel gave Hearts the lead straight after the break. Ross Tokely equalised in 58 minutes but Eggert Jonsson won it with a goal in 76 minutes. ICT still propped up the league at the end of November but December was rather better. There was one bright spot off the field in November when manager Terry Butcher was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame – a rare honour for an Englishman!

A 2-1 away win against St Mirren on 3 December was a tonic for the troops and the start of a busy five match month. A 3-2 home defeat to Dundee United a week later was very hard to take after leading 2-0. Johnny Hayes scored in just 69 seconds, Billy McKay made it 2-0 just after the break but United fought back and scored three times. David Davis was sent off for ICT with eight minutes left and this diminished the chances of a recovery. On 17 December ICT came close to taking something at Ibrox but an 83rd minute Kyle Lafferty goal gave Rangers a 2-1 win despite intense Inverness pressure at 1-1. 

On Christmas Eve there was an excellent 2-1 win at home to Aberdeen in very windy conditions. The goals were a long time coming but Roman Golobart in 64 minutes and Gregory Tade five minutes later did the damage. The Dons pulled one back in 76 minutes but it was not enough. Terry Butcher felt his side deserved to keep a clean sheet but was pleased with the victory: ‘It would have been a perfect Christmas had we won 2-0, but you can’t have everything. We didn’t get the present we would’ve liked. The main one was three points.’ That left just one more match in 2011 – on 28 December away to Hibs. The 1-1 draw was a welcome point and ICT finished the year in tenth spot with 19 points – not great but an improvement on twelfth which was the case for so long. Tenth place would be maintained right through to the end of the season.

Into 2012

On 7 January there was a break from the trauma of the league as ICT entered the William Hill Scottish Cup in round four. Dunfermline were drawn at home and former ICT player Andy Barrowman nearly gave Dunfermline victory – it took a 95th minute Jonny Hayes goal to take the match to a replay. This took place on the 18th and it went to extra time – it was 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes but ICT ran out 3-1 winners after extra time. The Inverness players went over to salute their fans, a few hundred in number, for backing the team. They had a long late journey home ahead of them but the reward was a home tie against Celtic.

There were three league matches in January starting with Motherwell away sandwiched between the Dunfermline cup ties. Gregor Tade scored the only goal to take the points then on the 21st Shane Sutherland struck in 49 minutes against Hearts in Inverness to gain another three points. A 0-0 draw at home to St Mirren on 28 January completed the January programme. The five points gained were very precious but there was no change to the league position.

In the January transfer window Steve Williams joined ICT on loan from Bradford City, ex Walsall French player Claude Gnakpa joined on a short term deal and Sam Winnall came on loan from Wolves. Moving in the other direction was David Davis who returned to Wolves after the end of his loan period as did Aiden Chippendale to Huddersfield Town.

The cup run ended on 4 February with a 2-0 home defeat to Celtic. ICT played Celtic on successive Saturdays as the cup defeat in Inverness was followed by a 1-0 defeat at Celtic Park despite the home side being reduced to ten men on the hour mark when Daniel Majstorovic saw a straight red. The man advantage only lasted 17 minutes as ICT’s Steve Williams received a second yellow and was off for an early shower. On 18th February a 1-1 draw at Dunfermline claimed the solitary point of the month. Rangers convincingly won 4-1 in Inverness on Sunday 26 February in a televised match despite the Glasgow side having just gone into administration. ICT still lay tenth but the total of 27 points was now eight ahead of Hibs and Dunfermline.

March was marginally better with one win, one draw and two defeats. On 5 March Dundee United beat ICT 3-0 at Tannadice including a goal from former ICT favourite John Rankin. On 10 March Roman Golobart scored at both ends in the 1-1 draw at home to Kilmarnock. Two weeks later things improved with a 1-0 win away to Aberdeen thanks to Gregory Tade’s 10th minute goal. A home 1-0 defeat to St Johnstone on 28 March completed the March programme and once more ICT lay tenth. SPL safety was close but not definite.. 

The opening match of April on the first was an important one as eleventh placed Hibs were the visitors to Inverness. Hibs took the points 3-2 in an exciting game that was only decided five minutes from time. It was 0-0 at half time then a flurry of second half goals saw ICT go 1-0 up through a Greg Tansey penalty, Hibs score two to go 2-1 ahead, Jonny Hayes equalise with seven minutes left then Leigh Griffiths score the winner two minutes later. ICT’s league position was unchanged – the main consequence was the opening up of a six point gap between eleventh placed Hibs and bottom club Dunfermline. A 0-0 draw with St Johnstone in Perth on 7 April took ICT into the post split matches in tenth place with 32 points. Caley Thistle stuttered towards SPL safety as they lost 2-0 at Aberdeen (with two own goals) and 4-3 at Kilmarnock. This high scoring match at Rugby Park saw ICT lose a goal, go 2-1 up then concede three goals after Jonny Hayes had been red carded. A third goal in the last minute made the score look better but the match was lost.

SPL safety

The tension continued until a 0-0 home draw with Dunfermline earned a valuable point to ensure safety and leave the relegation battle to be fought by Hibs and the Pars. Wins on 5 and 12 May, after the tension was lifted, ended the season on a high. First it was 1-0 away to St Mirren with Richie Foran on target then 2-0 at home to Hibs, who by then were safe from relegation. The final two goals of the season were scored by Greg Tansey and Jonny Hayes from the penalty spot. The closing match of 2011-12 was an historic occasion as it saw the final appearance of Ross Tokely after 16 seasons and 589 appearances. Ross joined from Huntly as a 17 year old in 1996 and was with the club through all divisions of the league. Along the way he won three championship medals, won one Bell’s Cup winner’s medal and amassed seven Player of the Year awards. A true club legend who will be missed.

The final 2011-12 tally of 39 points was the lowest achieved so far in the SPL apart from the 37 in relegation season 2008-09. That was not what mattered – there would be SPL football in Inverness in 2012-13. The 2011-12 SPL season ended with Dunfermline relegated on just 25 points and Celtic champions on 93 points – a massive 20 points ahead of second placed Rangers who were penalised with a ten points deduction for going into administration. 

In May 2011 former ICT player and assistant manager Duncan Shearer returned to the club on a full time basis to coach the under 19 side. Off the field there was a change at the top when in September Kenny Cameron replaced George Fraser as chairman – George Fraser had been in post since April 2008 and presided over the club under difficult financial circumstances. 

Kenny Cameron officially took over at the AGM on 22 September and he looked forward to the challenge: ‘I became operations director 15 months ago and it is with a combination of pride and humility that I have accepted the invitation to become executive chairman.  I look forward to working with my fellow directors, team manager Terry Butvcher and all the staff at Tulloch Caledonian Stadium to help the club in any way I can. Running a football club is a challenging business nowadays but I relish this opportunity.’ 

Outgoing chairman George Fraser welcomed his successor: ‘The board was united as one in agreeing this appointment. I’m very pleased as he knows how this club ticks, has sound judgment and is committed to Caley Thistle going forward.’

There was one board change with Sandy Catto standing down after sterling service going back to season 2000-01.  In March 2012 the “Muirfield Mills” consortium of Inverness expatriates injected £250,000 into the club and local Chartered Surveyor Richard Smith was elected to the board as their representative. 

With the season over, and SPL safety assured, it was time for the management team to rebuild the squad (again) and for the chairman to represent the club in the corridors of football power as the consequences of Rangers’ demise were faced.