Copyright Ian Broadfoot
TOP SIX FINISH 2012-13
A dramatic season for Scottish football and a fantastic season for Caley Thistle – a top six finish, a first full Scottish cap for a current ICT player (Andrew Shinnie), a semi final appearance in the League Cup and a first league defeat of Celtic at Celtic Park. A place in the Europa League seemed likely until the last day of the season when St Johnstone won and Caley Thistle lost.
The liquidation of Rangers led to their expulsion from the SPL and ‘Newco’ Rangers joining the SFL Third Division. With Rangers out of the SPL there was never any doubt that Celtic would dominate but it did leave a fascinating chase for second place and the European spots. Highland derby matches were renewed with Ross County’s promotion to the SPL and also when the sides were drawn together in the Scottish Cup. County made the top six in their maiden SPL season and were in the chase for Europe until close to the end.
Dunfermline entered administration in March 2013 and the inevitable points deduction led to relegation to the Second Division. Celtic won the SPL as expected and Dundee were relegated. As the season drew to a close it was possible that Hearts would go down instead of Dundee as their parent company UBIG were seeking insolvency in the Lithuanian courts – the SPL board could not decide whether this constituted insolvency according to their rules so Hearts were reprieved, at least for the moment.
Summer squad reconstruction
For Terry Butcher and his management team the summer of 2012 was another time of revamping the squad. Players left for pastures new, voluntarily or involuntarily, and replacements arrived from far and wide. Ross Tokely, the longest serving ICT player by a country mile, left for Ross County after a remarkable 589 appearances in 16 seasons. In these days of short contracts this total is unlikely to be bettered anytime soon. David Proctor left for Canadian side FC Edmonton after two spells at the club, Jonny Hayes signed for Aberdeen, Kenny Gillet moved to AEK Larnaca in Cyprus, Gregory Tade joined SPL rivals St Johnstone, and Greg Tansey went south to Stevenage. Moving rather further afield was Claude Gnakpa who joined Iraqi side Al-Minaa. Steve Williams returned to parent club Bradford City and similarly Sam Winnall went back to Wolves. Roman Golobart had been on loan from Wigan Athletic and he returned there – in May 2013 he was part of the Wigan squad that won the FA Cup then were relegated from the Premiership. Thomas Piermayr returned to Wiener Neustadt in his native Austria. Reserve goalkeeper Jonny Tuffey moved to St Johnstone in search of first team football.
The long list of outgoing players was balanced by an equally long list of arrivals. Defender David Raven arrived after being released by Tranmere Rovers. Gary Warren played for Newport County in the 2011-12 FA Trophy Final at Wembley and was offered a new contract – he chose instead to come to Inverness. Simon King signed after being released by Gillingham but injury forced his retiral after just four appearances. Former Macclesfield Town midfielder Ross Draper joined ICT on a one year contract and Dublin-born Conor Pepper came from St Patrick’s Athletic. Former Crewe Alexandra striker Jason Oswell signed on but left in January 2013 after just two league appearances.
With Jonny Tuffey’s departure there was a need for a goalkeeper to challenge Ryan Esson and this gap was filled by Spaniard Antonio Reguero – he started his career at Real Madrid before spending time at five other Spanish clubs. Andre Blackman was sent out on loan from Celtic to Inverness to gain experience but after two appearances he returned to the Glasgow club. Former Arsenal defender George Brislen-Hall signed a short-term deal but only managed four unused substitute appearances. Teenage striker Philip Roberts came from Arsenal initially on a six month loan deal but stayed for the whole season. Portuguese born Andre Martins reached Inverness via England, Belgium, Bulgaria, South America and Scandinavia but failed to make any impact – just one unused substitute appearance. Through the season youngsters Kyle Whyte, Matthew Cooper, Ryan Christie and Calum Ferguson were introduced to the first team squad – with young Christie, son of Charlie Christie, becoming the 200th squad player.
Following pre-season training, preparations for the new season began with a series of friendly matches around the north of Scotland and Angus including a testimonial at Buckie for long serving Jags player Jamie Ewan. July’s highlight was the visit to Inverness of Coventry City – newly relegated from the Premiership. It was a good test for Terry Butcher’s revamped side and resulted in well-deserved 3-1 win.
The first target in any league season is to avoid relegation. When that spectre recedes you can look upwards. The demise of Rangers led to an accelerated promotion to the SPL for Dundee but their economics and organisation were not ready. Very quickly they became anchored at the foot of the SPL and this enabled other clubs to look upwards with some confidence. For Caley Thistle league safety was never in doubt and it was just a question of whether a top six could be achieved for the first time – the word ‘Europe’ was rarely mentioned until a series of good results led to a league climb and a top three finish suddenly seemed possible.
The league season started on 4 August with a 2-2 away draw at St Mirren. The home side had taken the lead in 32 minutes but second half goals from Nick Ross and Billy McKay looked like earning three points. An added time equaliser changed that but it was still a good away point. A week later ICT drew 1-1 at home to Kilmarnock. At 1-0 Ryan Esson saved a penalty but Killie equalised in first half added time. It stayed that way despite Tudur Jones seeing red 10 minutes from time. There was another red card on 18 August away to Hearts when Richie Foran was given his marching orders right on half time. At that stage Hearts were 2-0 up but the ten men fought back and an Andrew Shinnie penalty made it 2-1. It looked like ending that way until Conor Pepper scored four minutes over the 90 to snatch a point. On Saturday 25 August a crowd of 6100 in Inverness watched Celtic race to a 4-0 lead in 64 minutes before two late Ross Draper goals made the score a little more respectable. The following Wednesday it was down to Arbroath for round two of the Scottish Communities League Cup. Two Andrew Shinnie goals with no reply saw ICT safely through to round three. At the end of August ICT were in tenth place in the SPL.
September was very mixed with a 4-1 drubbing away to Motherwell on Sunday 2nd then a gap for two Scotland World Cup qualifiers before a 1-1 draw at home to Aberdeen on Saturday 15 September. Both teams finished the match a man short with Aberdeen captain Russell Anderson and ICT’s Owen Tudur Jones both departing early. On 22 September a fine 2-2 draw away to Hibs was followed by a comprehensive 4-0 win at home to Dundee United a week later – the long awaited first league win of the season. Ryan Esson was injured in the warm-up so new signing Antonio Reguerro made his debut in goal and kept a clean sheet. A fine afternoon’s work and one which earned a jump from eleventh to seventh in the SPL. In between these final league matches of September was a trip to Ochilview Park to play Stenhousemuir in the League Cup. This proved a difficult tie and it ended 1-1 after extra time. ICT narrowly made it through to round four 6-5 on penalties.
ICT v Ross County in the SPL
Friday 5 October was a red letter day in the Highlands with the first meeting of ICT and Ross County in the SPL – it took place in Inverness and a crowd of 6766 saw the home side win 3-1 It was a close 2-1 until Aaron Doran scored a third three minutes from time to make the points safe. Two more Scotland World Cup qualifiers ensured a break until a comprehensive 4-0 away victory against Dundee on Friday 19 October. The final league match of October was on Saturday 27 October in Perth. Andrew Shinnie missed a penalty for ICT before Billy McKay made it 1-0 in the 73rd minute. It looked like three points but this was reduced to one when David Robertson equalised for St Johnstone two minutes into added time. ICT finished October in a very healthy fifth spot.
The league campaign was now well into its stride and things were definitely looking up. An incident packed match at Kilmarnock on 3 November ended in a 2-1 victory. At 1-0 Graeme Shinnie saw his penalty saved by Cammy Bell then Killie equalised. With 13 minutes left Cammy Bell brought down Ross Draper and Billy McKay scored from the spot to earn the victory. Bell was sent off for the foul but this was rescinded on appeal. On 10 November it was 1-1 at home to Hearts with the visitors snatching a draw with a penalty goal in the last minute. Eight days later it all went wrong at Motherwell with a heavy 5-1 defeat but things turned again on Saturday 24 November away to Celtic. Confidence was not high following the Motherwell battering but such are the vagaries of football that pride was restored in an unlikely setting. There was just one goal in it but it came from Billy McKay in 64 minutes to give ICT a first league at Celtic Park.
The final game in November was at Pittodrie on Tuesday 27th and it was a fine 3-2 victory. It was a highly entertaining encounter with ICT taking the lead in 36 minutes through Billy McKay and Aberdeen equalising on the stroke of half time. Referee Alan Muir had to be replaced at the interval due to a calf injury and he was replaced by fourth official Craig Charleston. There was a 15 minute delay while a replacement fourth official was recruited then the home side made it 2-1 in 50 minutes. Gary Warren equalised shortly after that then Billy McKay scored his second with eight minutes left to earn ICT three points. This pushed ICT up to a heady second place at the end of November.
December was very busy with five league games, a Scottish Cup tie and a cup replay. In the league two wins and three draws ensuring second place was retained. The fourth round of the Scottish Cup paired ICT with Ross County for the first time and the match took place in Dingwall on the first of the month. It was a cracking match and a dramatic finish. It was 1-0 at half time, 1-1 straight after the break, 2-1 in 74 minutes then 2-2 with four minutes of the 90 left. Richard Brittain thought he had won it for County with a goal two minutes into added time but at the death Richie Foran scored his second to make it 3-3 and take it to an Inverness replay.
Before the replay could take place there was a home league match on 8 December and a resounding 3-0 victory over Hibs. The cup replay took place the following Tuesday and it was a rather tame affair. ICT won 2-1 with Billy McKay scoring both goals including one from the penalty spot. On the 15th it was down to Tannadice and a remarkable 4-4 draw. Dundee United were 3-0 up in just eight minutes and all looked lost. A Billy McKay hat-trick (including a 62nd minute penalty) brought it back to 3-3 and Gary Warren’s 86th minute goal looked like a winner. John Daly’s second goal of the afternoon from the penalty spot in added time snatched a draw for the home side.
There were still three more league games to complete 2012. A 4-1 win at home to Dundee on the 22nd included two from Billy McKay to bring his tally to 18 for the season. This was followed the following Wednesday with a 2-2 home draw against St Mirren. ICT came back twice to claim a point. The last match of the year was on the 29th in Perth. It ended 0-0 but ICT and St Johnstone did produce an interesting match despite the lack of goals.
Going into 2013 confidence was high and a top six finish was on the cards – only a major slump would prevent that. The SPL winter break ensured that there were only two league games in January – a 3-0 home win against Aberdeen on the 19th and a surprise 2-1 defeat to St Mirren in Paisley on the 30th. Second place in the league was maintained.
League Cup semi final defeat – just!
The big event of the season took place on 26 January with the League Cup semi final at Easter Road against Hearts. The 3000 ICT fans were dwarfed by four times that number of Hearts fans – it was almost a home match for them. Caley Thistle took the lead through Andrew Shinnie in 49 minutes but Hearts equalised and it was on to extra time then dreaded penalties. Nine penalties were converted before ICT’s Philip Roberts sent the ball over the bar and Hearts took the tie. Terry Butcher was clearly disappointed: ‘We had some great chances in the game, probably enough to win two or three games rather than just one. We just didn’t take them which is not like us. It’s very hard to explain and I thought we deserved to win but we aren’t in the cup final. When it goes to a penalty shoot-out it becomes a lottery and they have gone through.’
Early January was dominated by the possibility of Terry Butcher leaving for Barnsley. He was given permission by the club to speak to Barnsley but in the end he rejected the chance in favour of staying in Inverness – to the relief of everyone at the club and the fans. The manager praised the attitude of ICT: ‘I was pleased that Caley Thistle gave me the opportunity to talk to Barnsley who were excellent to deal with but I have decided that my future lies at Inverness.’ Chairman Kenny Cameron expressed his relief: ‘We are absolutely delighted Terry is to remain with us and the supporters will greatly welcome the news. These are exciting times for this club under the management of terry and Maurice Malpas and we now look forward to maintaining what has been a wonderful season.’ On the playing side the January transfer window saw the arrival of Belfast born Danny Devine from Fleetwood Town and loan deals brought Charlie Taylor from Leeds United and Jordan Gibbons from QPR.
There was further cup disappointment on 2 February at Kilmarnock in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup with a 2-0 defeat. Early injuries to Richie Foran and Andrew Shinnie changed the dynamics of the game for ICT. Paul Heffernan made it 1-0 in 58 minutes and it stayed close until Heffernan netted his second five minutes from time.
With all cup interest now gone it was back to the league. There were mixed fortunes in February starting with a 3-1 defeat to Celtic at home on the 9th. Nick Ross had given ICT a 9th minute lead but Kris Commons equalised in the 20th minute. Rami Gershon made it 2-1 not long after the break and Billy McKay nearly made it 2-2 only to see his goal-bound shot cleared off the line. Miku settled the matter in 82 minutes when he scored for 3-1.
The following Wednesday it was 1-1 at home to Kilmarnock and by the time Caley Thistle played Motherwell on 16 February it was clear that the Steelmen were the main opponents for second spot although Ross County were not out of it. For the third time this season Motherwell took the points in a high scoring match – they won 3-0. This pushed Motherwell into second place but ICT regained it the next week with a 3-2 win away to Hearts. ICT were never behind but twice Hearts came back to draw before Gary Warren’s second goal on 77 minutes completed the scoring. February ended with a 0-0 draw at home to Dundee United on 27 February – an excellent match despite the lack of goals. The dropped points enabled Motherwell to climb back to second and they were to stay there through to the end of the season.
On 2 March all eyes turned to Dingwall and another local derby. At this point Motherwell were second on 43 points, ICT were third on 42 and Ross County shared fourth spot with St Johnstone on 41 – but Saints had played one game more. Thus if County won the derby they would leapfrog into third place. Despite the pre match hype it ended 0-0 and the league placings remained unchanged. A week later Caley Thistle could only draw 1-1 away to with bottom club Dundee. It was 1-0 to the home side before Billy McKay rescued a point seven minutes from time. That day County came back from 2-0 down to beat Celtic 3-2 in Dingwall and climb to third place. This only lasted a week as the next local derby in Inverness on 16 March ended 2-1 to ICT. Caley Thistle regained third place and would hold that until the final day of the season.
With Motherwell secure in second place and one Europa League place dependent on the Scottish Cup destination it was clear that third place would mean European football. One more win in March (2-1 away to Hibs) kept everything on track but things began to get very tight in April.
Rivals for third place remained Ross County and a resurgent St Johnstone. There were only three league matches in April but all were significant. Two matches against St Johnstone ended in a 0-0 draw at home and a 1-0 away defeat. Defeat away to Celtic on 21 April was not unexpected – three points would give Celtic the league title and they duly obliged their fans with an emphatic 4-1 victory. The St Johnstone defeat was especially hard to take as ICT had to play for 78 minutes minus red-carded David Raven. Two exciting Scottish Cup semi finals produced a final between Celtic and Hibs which meant that Hibs would be in the Europa League no matter the result of the cup final. Thus at the end of April Celtic were champions, Motherwell were secure in second place on 57 points, ICT were on 51, St Johnstone on 50, Ross County on 49 and Dundee United off the pace on 44.
There were just three league matches left and when ICT beat Motherwell 4-3 at home on 4 May all looked good. This was an incredible match. ICT were 3-0 up but Motherwell stormed back to 3-3 before Billy McKay completed his second hat trick of the season to make it 4-3. These two clubs shared 21 goals over four league encounters but this was the first time ICT had taken anything from the games. The final home match of the season on 11 May saw Dundee United as the visitors. In the early kick-off Celtic had hammered St Johnstone so a win would see Caley Thistle in Europe. It did not happen. United came from behind very late in the game to win 2-1 and take the Europe decider to the last day of the season. Ross County dropped out of the race 24 hours later when they lost 2-0 to Motherwell.
Europa League hopes dashed
It was all down to the final day of the season on Sunday 19 May. Caley Thistle were up against local rivals Ross County in Dingwall and confidence was high. St Johnstone were at home to Motherwell and had not beaten them all season. It all went wrong when County won 1-0 and Saints beat Motherwell 2-0. Thus the Perth side took third place, and a Europa League spot, by two points and Caley Thistle had to be content with a top six finish. Thus the dream of a European adventure was gone but everyone at the club could reflect on a fantastic season.
The club was well represented at international level throughout the season. On 14 November Andrew Shinnie became the club’s first Scottish international player when he played in the 2-1 win away to Luxembourg – other Scottish internationalists have been with the club but have never been picked while in Inverness. Billy McKay made his full Northern Ireland debut on 6 February in the 0-0 draw away to Malta. Aaron Doran played twice for the Republic of Ireland under 21 side in the UEFA under 21 championship – on 6 September he played in the 2-1 away victory against Hungary then again away to Italy four days later. The Irish side beat Italy 4-2 and Doran scored twice.
Andrew Shinnie was on the PFA Player of the Year shortlist and was named in the PFA SPL Team of the Year. Clydesdale Bank Premier League awards were Manager of the Month November 2012 – Terry Butcher; Player of the Month November 2012 – Billy McKay; Young Player of the Month November 2012 – Aaron Doran; Young Player of the Month March 2013 – Josh Meekings. Billy McKay ended the season as the club’s top goalscorer on 27 strikes including 23 in the SPL – second only to Motherwell’s Michael Higdon on 26 but McKay had to share second place with Leigh Griffiths of Hibs.
Three players played in all 45 matches – Aaron Doran started all matches, Andrew Shinnie’s total of 45 included one league substitute appearance and similarly Billy McKay’s total included five league substitute appearances.
A thread that ran through the season was the possibility of an overhaul of the football structure in Scotland and league reconstruction. This subject is an ever-present undercurrent in Scottish football but this year there seemed to be a groundswell of support for action. The disparity in the finances between the SPL and the rest of the league has always been a major grievance and many have long felt that the three-organisation structure in a small country was incongruous. Crunch day for league reconstruction came on 15 April with a meeting of SPL chairmen at Hampden. After seemingly endless discussions the plan now being proposed was a new league structure of 12/12/18 with the top two divisions splitting mid season into three divisions of eight. There would also be a pyramid structure, play-offs, a redistribution of cash and a merger of the league bodies into one structure. There was division amongst supporters and within clubs but it went forward to the SPL meeting needing an 11-1 vote in favour to succeed. After that it was to go to a meeting of SFL clubs for final approval. St Mirren’s Stewart Gilmour expressed his intention to vote against it in advance and Ross County’s Roy MacGregor’s position was still open. In the event the Ross County vote was against the proposals with their chairman stating that he had listened to his club’s supporters. It was back to the drawing board but any new proposals were not likely to see the light of day in the near future.
With many players out of contract it was set to be a summer of persuading players to sign new contracts and to bring in new faces.