Copyright Ian Broadfoot
EUROPEAN ADVENTURE 2015-16
A first competitive venture into Europe, the quarter final of the Scottish Cup reached and seventh place in the Premiership confirmed on the last day of the season – not ‘top 6’ but ‘the best of the rest’. 2014-15 was by any standards the most successful season in the Club’s short history and it was never going to be easy to come close to that. The task for John Hughes and his backroom staff was made even harder by the loss of key players and a succession of injuries which made it difficult to keep a settled side. Aaron Doran played in the two Europa League matches but missed the rest of the season, Dean Brill was out all season and club captain Richie Foran made sporadic appearances from the bench as his fitness built up following long term injury.
On 22 June, a mere 23 days after the Scottish Cup triumph, all eyes turned to the UEFA website and its live feed of the Europa Cup draw. Director Alan McPhee and Football Secretary Jim Falconer represented the Club at the draw in Nyon, Switzerland. In the first qualifying round Aberdeen were drawn to face KF Shkendija of Macedonia and St Johnstone to take on Armenian side Alashkert. Then it was on to the second qualifying round draw and ICT’s moment – out came ICT v FC Astra Giurgiu of Romania. At least there was no uncertainty as often the second opponents are not known until a first round tie has been completed. The first leg was scheduled for 16 July in Inverness then it would be off to Romania a week later.
The transfer window opened at the end of 2014-15 and three first team players left for pastures new. Graeme Shinnie’s pre contract agreement with Aberdeen saw him leave for the Granite City, Marley Watkins moved to Barnsley and Nick Ross signed for Dundee. Tarmo Kink moved back to FC Levadia Tallinn in his native Estonia and Edward Ofere went to Boluspor (Turkey) – Ofere returned to Scotland in February 2016 and signed for Dundee United. A number of players moved in the other direction – Nat Wedderburn was an early signing from Cowdenbeath then the round of pre-season friendlies led to the signing of Dani Lopez Robles from Spanish side La Roda and Jordan Roberts from Aldershot Town. With only one fit senior goalkeeper there was clearly some urgency to sign another. On the day of the first Europa League match Welsh international squad member Owain Fon Williams signed from Tranmere Rovers and was immediately selected for first team duty. Prior to the start of the league season Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo arrived from French side EFC Frejus Saint-Raphael and in early August there was a return to the club for Iain Vigurs who had left in 2009 for Ross County and later played for Motherwell. The transfer window closed on 1 September and that day Miles Storey came on loan from Swindon Town and similarly Tobi Sho-Silva arrived from Charlton Athletic. Over the preceding months there had been intense speculation about the future of Ryan Christie who had been in the shop window with some excellent performances leading up to the Scottish Cup final. Celtic were always favourites to land the youngster and so it proved – he signed for them on the final day of the transfer window and was immediately loaned back to ICT at least until January.
The pre-season round of friendlies was cut short by Europa League duties but there was time for five matches before facing Astra Giurgiu. The opening friendly was on 27 June at Grant Street Park to face Clachnacuddin and a 3-0 victory was secured. Then it was 3-0 at Brora, 2-1 at Banff against Deveronvale and a resounding 5-0 at Forres. The pre-Europa friendlies were completed with a visit to Inverness by newly-relegated St Mirren and it ended 1-1. This run of matches served to get the retained squad in shape but also to run the rule over a number of trialists. In addition to Lopez and Roberts, who signed, there were impressive performances by Jonathan ‘JJ’ Hooper who played in all five matches and scored three times. He was a busy lad as he played as a trialist for Dunfermline, ICT and Raith Rovers before agreeing to sign for Cheltenham Town – at the last minute he changed his mind and joined Port Vale. Midfielder Oliver Norburn played in three friendlies but was not signed.
A week before the first Europa League match it was announced that Assistant Manager Russell Latapy had left the club. It was always known that Latapy had ambitions beyond Inverness and this was confirmed in a statement to the club website: “I have never hidden my ambition to one day to be own man in management terms and believe now is this time.” Chairman Ken Cameron paid tribute to his contribution over 18 months and wished him every success going forward. Latapy was replaced by Brian Rice who had been assistant to John Hughes at Hibernian.
The summer close season was very short as a mere 47 days separated the Cup Final on 30 May from the first Europa League match on 16 July. This historic first competitive match against foreign opposition attracted a crowd of 5534 but it ended in disappointment as Astra Giurgiu narrowly won 1-0. The only goal came in 24 minutes from Astra captain Constantin Budescu against the run of play. His free kick looped over the wall and into the net – debutant goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams did get a touch but only helped it on its way. Caley Thistle heads did not go down but despite endeavour no equaliser came. John Hughes was very proud of his side but disappointed at losing the goal. Astra’s Marius Sumudica was clearly the happier coach but he was not happy with the weather – he produced the quote of the evening at his post match interview when he asked “When is it summer here?”!
The away leg one week later in Giurgiu, Romania was a major logistical operation for the club and for fans. The club chose to charter an aircraft to fly from Inverness to Bucharest via a refuelling stop in Prague. The Jota Airways BAe 146 took the team, officials, press and fans from Inverness on the morning of Wednesday 22 July and after five flying hours it touched down at Bucharest’s Henri Coandă International Airport.
In the evening the team trained for a short time at Rapid Bucharest’s ground then it was back to the hotel in Bucharest for a good night’s sleep. On match day preparations were low key and at 6pm local time the team set off for the 75 minute journey to the Marin Anastasovici Stadium in Giurgiu. Kick off time was 9pm local (7pm BST).
ICT Commercial Manager Iain Auld was one of the party that flew to Romania with the team and he sent the following report.
“The phrases “water breaks” and “blistering heat” are not normally associated with an Inverness Caledonian Thistle match but it certainly did apply for the Europa League 2nd qualifying round second leg with FC Astra.
The team departed Inverness airport on the Wednesday morning, via a fuel stop in Prague, bound for Bucharest and later that day would settle into their city centre hotel before training at the home of Rapid Bucharest. Meanwhile 550 supporters were travelling on planes, trains and automobiles to make sure they got to the first ever Caley Thistle European away day. Flights from Inverness, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, London and Manchester would all touch down at Bucharest airport before the game with Caley Jags fans on board. The fans would make themselves welcome straight away in the 40 degree sunshine and they would be equally as delighted when they learnt the cost of a beer in the Romanian capital.
Giurgiu and an hour and a half coach journey lay in wait on the match day with John Hughes bringing David Raven back into the side for Ross Draper from the 1st leg defeat. The visitors coped well in the heat helped by the kick off time changed to 9pm local time and despite good possession could not find a way past Astra goalkeeper Silviu Lung Jr. Aaron Doran has the best chance of the match and Ryan Christie had a second half penalty shout waved away. The match ended in a goal-less draw with Inverness exiting Europe at the first time of asking but safe in the knowledge that there wasn’t much between them and a team who would go on to knock out Premier League outfit West Ham in the next round. The team were straight back to Inverness via another fuel stop with the official charter arriving back in the Highlands on Friday morning. Many fans made their way back home the following day but some decided to stay an extra couple of days in Bucharest.”
There was bitter disappointment in the ICT camp at the early Europa League exit but John Hughes was very positive. He thought that his players had shown themselves as worthy of European football. It was, however, very disappointing to lose the tie to one goal from a free kick.
The league campaign started on 1 August and the month proved hectic. The opener was a home match against Motherwell – the 1-0 defeat was bad enough but the result was overshadowed by the broken leg sustained by Gary Warren. A week later it was down to Perth to play St Johnstone. Ryan Christie’s goal in the ninth minute looked like earning three points until the final minute when Graham Cummins headed an equaliser. The following Tuesday a young ICT side beat Halkirk United 3-2 in the quarter final of the Menzies Distribution North Cup – the match was technically a home Inverness tie but was switched to Halkirk. 24 hours later Partick Thistle came north – both defences stood firm and it ended 0-0.
On 15 August the destination was Celtic Park and a decisive victory for the home side. For the second game in a row John Hughes was forced to name only six substitutes as the injury list lengthened. By the 69th minute Celtic were 4-0 up and well on top. Two minutes later Ryan Christie scored against his new club and in the 78th minute Dani Lopez made it 4-2. This mini revival did not really change anything but it made for a better scoreline. The final two matches of this busy month were a 2-0 home loss to Hamilton and a 1-1 draw at Dundee – the latter included a late red card for Andrea Mutombo. With just two points from six league matches it was no surprise that ICT ended the first month of the season in tenth spot.
September started with an international break then the first Friday evening match of the season on the 11th. It marked the start of a revival with a 2-0 home win against newly promoted Hearts. The following Tuesday ICT’s youngsters headed to Wick for the semi final of the North Cup but they lost 2-1 despite taking a 12th minute lead through Jamie Wilson. The next league match was on the 19th at Tannadice against Dundee United. Billy McKay left ICT last January for Wigan but had now been loaned to United – it was perhaps no surprise when he gave his new side the lead in the seventh minute. The match was hard fought and Josh Meekings rescued a point in the 56th minute.
Caley Thistle’s exploits in 2014/15 earned them a bye into the third round of the League Cup and on 22 September they played Livingston at the newly renamed Tony Macaroni Arena – a ground more familiar to ICT as Almondvale Stadium but one which has been renamed several times as sponsors have come and gone. There was no upset as ICT won 2-0 with goals from Miles Storey and Danny Devine. The final league match of September was on the 26th at home to high-flying Aberdeen. They had started the season in fine style and were sitting proudly at the top of the Premiership. There was a large travelling support which swelled the crowd to 6410 and they clearly expected the strong run to continue. It did not happen as goals from Miles Storey and Ryan Christie gave ICT a 2-0 lead by the half hour mark although Ash Taylor headed one back in 35 minutes. There were no more goals and ICT took the points with the only dark spot being the second yellow card to Ryan Christie. Despite the defeat Aberdeen remained top of the league and Caley Thistle ended the month with a minor rise to ninth.
After a defeat to St Johnstone on 26 September Dundee United manager Jackie McNamara was sacked and high on their list as a replacement was John Hughes – not a great surprise in view of his achievements with ICT. The club was clearly keen to keep the manager and rejected a request by United to speak to Hughes about the vacancy. The saga ended when United appointed Mixu Paatelainen in mid October and six weeks later Hughes signed a two year contract extension to remain in Inverness.
The first derby of the season took place in Dingwall on 3 October. County were enjoying a good start to the season but ICT won 2-1 in front of a 5473 crowd. There was another international break as Scotland attempted, and just failed, to reach Euro 2016 in France. Thus the next league match took place on the 17th away to Kilmarnock – a 2-0 defeat. On 24 October the second round of league matches started with the visit of St Johnstone. Caley Thistle had a numerical and psychological advantage for most of the second half after the dismissal of Saints’ captain Dave Mackay but they could not make this count. It looked like ending goalless until the final minute of the ninety when Danny Devine brought down Liam Craig and it was a penalty. Craig took it himself and sent Owain Fon Williams the wrong way.
The quarter final draw for the League Cup (renamed for the latter stages as the Scottish League Cup presented by Utilita) brought a home tie against local rivals Ross County and this match was selected for live BBC coverage on Tuesday 27 October. With County on a roll and lying fourth in the Premiership they were in confident mood. Caley Thistle on the other hand were struggling with injuries to key players and for the second match in a row could only muster five substitutes. Despite this it was ICT that had the first clear cut chance in seven minutes. Miles Storey faced Gary Woods in space but the County ‘keeper saved his weak shot. County always looked the more likely to score after that and so it proved. Goals either side of the break from Jackson Irvine and Michael Gardyne gave the Dingwall side a 2-0 advantage and they held this until a long range strike from Greg Tansey in 78 minutes gave the home side hope. This sparked a spirited revival but it was too little too late. Time ran out and County progressed to the semi final.
It was back to the league and Halloween brought Paul Hartley’s Dundee to Inverness for the final match of the month. Miles Storey was the latest injury victim so John Hughes had once more to shuffle his pack. One bright spot was the return of Gary Warren to the bench – he played for the final ten minutes. It was a tale of two penalties and a red card. Five minutes into the second half David Raven saw red after a clumsy tackle on Greg Stewart and Rory Loy netted the resultant penalty. In 64 minutes Ryan Christie went down in the box at the other end and another penalty was awarded. Greg Tansey made no mistake and the 1-1 scoreline stayed until the final whistle. ICT remained ninth at the end of October.
November opened with an away trip to Motherwell on the 7th with John Hughes banished to the stand by the SFA. On the bright side Miles Storey returned from injury and Gary Warren again came off the bench. The injury list remained long with Dean Brill, Aaron Doran, Ross Draper and Richie Foran still absent. The suspension of David Raven and a knee injury to Ryan Christie during the match did not help. Despite those drawbacks, goals from Greg Tansey (a saved penalty retaken then converted), Miles Storey and Iain Vigurs ensured a 3-1 win.
There was the chance of a rest for most of the squad with an international break of one week. Ryan Christie was forced to miss a Scotland under 21 match because of injury but there was better news for the club’s only other current international player. Goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams had been a regular in the Welsh full squad for six years, and a firm favourite of fans and fellow players, but had never played. That changed in a friendly against the Netherlands when he came on for the final 16 minutes. He was beaten by Arjen Robben’s 81st minute winner but that did little to detract from the ‘keeper’s joy at a first cap.
It emerged later that Ryan Christie’s injury at Motherwell meant that he had played his last game for ICT. Celtic always had the option to take him south in January but it was hoped that this would be deferred until the summer. Christie was to be out for six to eight weeks so Celtic decided to take him early to allow him to work with their medical department.
Two disappointing results completed the November programme with a 2-1 defeat away to Partick Thistle and a 3-1 loss at home to Celtic. The Partick game started well with a Miles Storey goal in 6 minutes but a Kris Doolan goal just before half time looked like ensuring points shared. A bizarre last minute swerving cross from Ryan Stevenson eluded Fon Williams and it ended 2-1. It is always hard against Celtic and so it proved once more. Callum McGregor’s early goal was cancelled out by Storey in 39 minutes and 1-1 at half time was a cause for hope. Two second half Celtic goals ended that and the champions moved seven points clear at the top of the Premiership. Caley Thistle finished November in eighth place.
December was much better. On the 12th an Iain Vigurs double earned a 2-1 home victory against Kilmarnock then a week later it was 2-2 at home to Dundee United – United looked like taking all three points until Lewis Horner chested home in the final minute. There was a busy end to 2015 with an away match in Aberdeen on Boxing Day then a trip to Hamilton four days later. With Aberdeen giving Celtic a real fight for the league title the Pittodrie faithful were looking for three points to bolster their challenge and to gain revenge for the 2-1 defeat in September. Late in the first half Liam Polworth gave ICT the lead then two minutes after the break a Greg Tansey penalty made it 2-0. Niall McGinn scored in 73 minutes to make it 2-1 but it still looked like three points to Inverness until the 90th minute when Aberdeen snatched a draw with an Adam Rooney penalty. Both managers felt that Willie Collum awarded penalties in error and John Hughes lamented the loss of a two goal lead but gave credit to Aberdeen for their fight-back. The excitement continued in Hamilton with a seven goal thriller in the final match of 2015. The match was played in dreadfully wet conditions which had seen many matches cancelled throughout Scotland. Hamilton’s much maligned artificial pitch allowed the match to go ahead. A Greg Tansey free kick gave Caley Thistle the lead in 18 minutes then Liam Polworth made it 2-0 in 51 minutes. Carlton Morris pulled one back then came a remarkable final ten minutes with four more goals. Ziggy Gordon equalized with nine minutes of the ninety left then Greg Tansey looked like securing the points for ICT when he made it 3-2 with two minutes left. Christian Nade equalised at the death but remarkably Liam Polworth scored his second of the day in 93 minutes to win the match 4-3 and stun the home crowd. This result took ICT into sixth spot at the turn of the year – an excellent position considering the long injury list through the summer and autumn. Valuable players remained on the sidelines but things were clearly improving.
January transfer window
The transfer window opened in January with the usual crop of rumour and counter rumour. John Hughes was in the frame to take Anthony Stokes on loan from Celtic but, despite the relationship between Stokes and Hughes dating back to Hibs and Falkirk, Stokes went to Hibs on loan until the end of 2015/16. Miles Storey’s loan from Swindon Town was due to come to an end in December but this was extended to the end of the season. Former Torquay striker Alex Fisher signed in time for the cup tie against Stirling on 9 January.
Dani Lopez’s contract was cancelled in the aftermath of a November spitting incident in an under 20 match against St Johnstone. He saw red during the match and was suspended and fined a substantial amount by the club. He also received a two match ban from the SFA. Lopez apologised for the offence but he never played again and left in January. Influential midfielder Greg Tansey was on Aberdeen’s radar and they thought that they had captured him on the final day of the transfer window. Aberdeen claimed to have met a £200,000 contract release valuation but the ICT board rejected the approach and Tansey remained in Inverness. ICT completed two pieces of business on deadline day when they signed midfielders Ryan Williams from Brentford and Liam Hughes from Cambridge.
2016 football began with the 50th senior meeting of ICT and Ross County in Inverness on 2 January. Two first half goals from Miles Storey and Greg Tansey earned a valuable three points and retained sixth spot. The defence of the Scottish Cup began a week later in a fourth round tie away to Stirling Albion. The cup holders were clear favourites but they struggled to break down the home defence and it ended 0-0. A trip to Kilmarnock the following Saturday resulted in a 2-1 defeat amidst snow. The match had to be stopped in each half to clear the lines and abandonment was a real possibility. For Caley Thistle the only bright spot was Ross Draper’s goal in 41 minutes – the club’s 1500th senior goal. The cup replay against Stirling Albion took place on Tuesday 19 January in Inverness and this time it went as expected – a 2-0 win marred only by an injury to Alex Fisher who had signed for the club just before the first Stirling match. Andrea Mutombo’s 28th minute opening goal was voted ‘Goal of the Round’. January was completed on the 23rd by an uninspiring 0-0 draw at home to Partick – the crowd was boosted by a ‘Pay What You Can’ experiment which was deemed a success. ICT finished the month in a respectable sixth place.
The fifth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup took place on Saturday 6 February and for Caley Thistle this meant a difficult trip to play Motherwell. In 39 minutes a low ball across goal from the left by Carl Tremarco was turned into his own net by Stephen McManus but Scott McDonald equalised in 67 minutes. It looked like going to a replay until the first minute of added time when substitute Jordan Roberts hammered home from 30 yards to send Caley Thistle into the quarter finals.
Aberdeen were still on a roll and chasing Celtic hard for the Premiership title when they came to Inverness on Monday 15 February. It was a pulsating match with controversial decisions and, in the end, a 3-1 victory for Caley Thistle. Adam Rooney gave Aberdeen the lead in seven minutes but an Ash Taylor error at the other end allowed Iain Vigurs in to equalise in 18 minutes. The biggest controversy came in 51 minutes when Ash Taylor raised his boot high into the path of Ross Draper in the Aberdeen penalty area, Draper went down and a penalty was awarded. Derek McInnes was furious, John Hughes expressed some sympathy after the match but the penalty stood and Greg Tansey hammered home. Carl Tremarco headed in his first goal for the club in 65 minutes despite a raised flag for offside. The referee gave the goal after consultation with his assistant and TV pictures showed that the decision was correct. Aberdeen had two forlorn penalty calls but they could find no way back. Caley Thistle moved above St Johnstone from seventh up to sixth – 32 points, the same as Saints, but with a marginally better goal difference.
It was a different story the following Saturday at Celtic Park. Caley Thistle put up a good show in the first half, created three good chances, kept Celtic at bay but could not score. The second half started well but Celtic soon picked up the pace and scored two quick goals. Leigh Griffiths netted his second in added time to complete the scoring. Former ICT starlet Ryan Christie came on after 67 minutes for Celtic – a strange sight for the away support. Results elsewhere consigned Caley Thistle to seventh. A 1-1 draw at Dundee the following Saturday maintained seventh spot at the end of February. Holding on to Ross Draper’s 13th minute goal proved very hard amidst a second half of Dundee pressure. There was one moment of light relief when a clearance out of the Caley Thistle defence went close to the touchline and was caught by Dundee manager Paul Hartley. Referee Andrew Dallas deemed that it had not crossed the line, ticked off Hartley before awarding a bounce ball. Some desperate defending and a string of excellent saves from Owain Fon Williams held it at 1-0 until four minutes from time. Prolific goalscorer Kane Hemmings bundled the ball in for his 20th goal of the season and earned his side a deserved draw.
March opened with two visits to Edinburgh in six days. On 1 March the destination was Tynecastle and a league match against Hearts. It was a disappointing evening with a 2-0 defeat – the first time Caley Thistle had tasted defeat to Hearts in the league since 2011. On Sunday 6 March the fourth Scottish Cup quarter final tie of the weekend took place at Easter Road with Caley Thistle facing Hibs. It was live on BBC TV and was quite clearly the Inverness side’s biggest domestic match of the season so far. In a hard fought match Hibs took the lead in the 54th minute through James Keatings but Andrea Mutombo equalised in the 77th minute following an excellent Lewis Horner cut back and a touch on from Jordan Roberts. It was now back to Inverness for a replay.
Before the replay there were two league matches to negotiate. A record fifth away match in a row saw the ICT entourage head for Perth on Wednesday 9 March for a rearranged league match. Injuries once more depleted the squad and the cause was not helped by the dismissal of Gary Warren in the 68th minute for a second yellow card. The penalty he conceded was a weak effort from David Wotherspoon and it was saved by Owain Fon Williams. Saints took heart from the extra man and it was no real surprise when Chris Kane scored the only goal of the match six minutes from time. The following Saturday Hamilton came north for a league match – Caley Thistle were desperate for points but it was not to be as the visitors won 1-0.
Sunday 13 March was Ross County’s day in the sun at Hampden. They had qualified for the League Cup final by surprisingly defeating Celtic 3-1 in the semi final on 31 January and they had a long wait for the final. Dingwall emptied as County faced Hibs and, in a tight encounter, they won 2-1 to take the cup back up the A9. Thus both Scottish Cups were in the Highlands, at least for a short time – who would have predicted that in 1994? Just four days later Hibs faced Caley Thistle in the Scottish Cup quarter final replay in Inverness with Dundee United waiting to play the winners in the semi final. Any hopes of the Edinburgh side succumbing to mental or physical fatigue evaporated as they took the tie 2-1. Two first half goals from Anthony Stokes made the task for Caley Thistle very hard but there was hope when Iain Vigurs pulled a goal back 13 minutes from time. It was not enough and the cup holders were out.
The cup defeat to Hibs was a watershed – dreams of another Scottish Cup triumph had to be set aside and it was back to the league. Ross County were also in action four days after the cup triumph and they managed a hard fought 1-1 draw away to St Johnstone. This sequence of events set up a very interesting local derby in Dingwall the following Saturday. County were on a high – a cup win, fourth in the league and the form team. Caley Thistle on the other hand had to pick themselves up from the midweek cup defeat and were still missing players through injury. County had early chances and things could have been so different if Jackson Irvine had scored instead of hitting the post. After that it was all Caley Thistle and goals from Liam Polworth, Ross Draper and Miles Storey secured a 3-0 victory.
With an international break looming the Premiership card for March was completed by a 2-2 draw in the Dundee derby the next day. It was a good time to take stock with ICT on 30 games played and with just three to go to the split. The win in Dingwall opened up an eight point gap from Kilmarnock in 11th spot but ninth place was retained. Dundee United remained at the foot of the table. The middle section of the league was very tight with ten points between tenth and fourth places. Thus a number of teams could look both up to the top six and down to the basement spots.
Top six disappointment
The final Premiership matches, prior to the split, were to be squeezed into one week at the beginning of April – at home to Motherwell on 2 April, a midweek rearranged home match against Hearts on the fifth and away to Dundee United on the ninth. The Motherwell match was heading for a 1-1 draw until four minutes into added time when the visitors scored – a disappointing afternoon and a severe dent to hopes of a top six finish. Illness to many Hearts players led to the next match being put back one week. The visit to Tannadice proved fruitful with a 2-0 win. It was not enough to secure a top six spot as results elsewhere earned Ross County and St Johnstone the final places. The round 29 match against Hearts finally took place on 12 April at the fourth attempt – a club record for postponements. It was a dull 0-0 draw but it did give Caley Thistle another precious point and Hearts entry to the Europa League.
Failing to secure a top six finish was a major disappointment – particularly as the goal had been in sight but not quite achieved. After a break for the Scottish Cup semi finals it was time for the run-in. The first aim was to avoid the relegation play-off spot and the second was to finish as high up the table as possible.
Sunday 24 April: Home match against eleventh placed Kilmarnock. Caley Thistle dominated the first half but went behind to a Kallum Higginbotham goal in 44 minutes. The match turned in 52 minutes when a ridiculous Conrad Balatoni backpass put Jamie MacDonald in a tight spot – Ross Draper touched the ball round the ‘keeper then was brought down. MacDonald inevitably saw red and Greg Tansey score with the resultant penalty past sub ‘keeper Conor Brennan. Ross Draper and Danny Williams added further goals in a convincing 3-1 victory.
Saturday 30 April: Goals from Carl Tremarco, Miles Storey, Josh Meekings and Jordan Roberts set up an excellent 4-1 away victory against Partick Thistle and assured Premiership safety. After the Kilmarnock victory it would have taken a dramatic change in fortune to drop into the play-offs but 4-1 at Partick finally ended any last arithmetical chance. ICT’s recent efforts earned John Hughes the Ladbrokes Premiership Manager of the Month award for April.
Friday 6 May: Newly-relegated Dundee United came north for another televised match and, for Caley Thistle, it was a chance to lay claim to seventh place. It was a very strange match with Caley Thistle having 75% of the play but finding themselves 3-0 down after 55 minutes. Jordan Roberts and Liam Polworth brought it back to 3-2 but it stayed that way despite United playing with 10 men for the last 12 minutes – Callum Morris received two yellow cards in quick succession and was off. That was not the end of the story – it emerged later that United substitutes Ali Coote and Jamie Robson were ineligible as they had been on loan and re-registered after the cut off date (31 March). United were docked three points and fined £30,000 by the SFA but the points did not go to ICT!
Wednesday 11 May: Caley Thistle went to Hamilton in eighth spot but by the end of the evening were up to seventh. A solitary Danny Devine goal was enough to give a 1-0 victory while rivals Dundee could only take a point from Kilmarnock. The scene was set for the final match of the season – at home to Dundee with the honour of being ‘best of the rest’ at stake.
Saturday 14 May: A bland first half in this battle for seventh place between ICT and Dundee. A blitz of four second half goals into the Dundee net ended the contest. Miles Storey, Danny Devine and Ross Draper were on target before Richie Foran scored number four from the penalty spot. A decisive victory and a good way to round off the season.
The Dundee victory earned seventh place in the Premiership and completed a strange series of results over the season – seven home wins, seven away wins, seven home defeats, seven away defeats, five home draws and five away draws.
Celtic took the Premiership title despite Aberdeen’s efforts and history was made at the opposite end of the SPFL. 2014-15 saw the introduction of the pyramid system to Scottish football with the winners of the Lowland and Highland Leagues playing off for the right to take on the bottom team in SPFL Division Two. East Stirling defeated Edinburgh City in May 2015 but this was reversed in May 2016. East Stirling dropped out of the SPFL and Edinburgh City came into Division Two. Dundee United were relegated from the Premiership but Kilmarnock avoided the same fate with a 4-1 aggregate play-off victory against Falkirk.
Miles Storey finished the season as top scorer with 12 goals, Greg Tansey scored nine and Iain Vigurs eight. Owain Fon Williams was the only player to appear in all 47 matches – Danny Devine played in 46 and Greg Tansey in 45. After the final Dundee match David Raven was presented with the Supporters’ Player of the Year trophy and Ross Draper received the Players’ Player of the Year award. Under 17 youth player Ryan McRitchie was presented with his Scottish Schoolboys Cap by Rod Houston – Ryan was part of the Under 18 squad that took part in the 2015/16 Centenary Shield tournament against the other Home Countries and the Republic of Ireland.
Off the field the Board of Directors was augmented in July with the appointment of Donnie Fraser. The Board now comprises chairman Ken Cameron and Directors David Cameron, Willie Finlayson, Allan Munro, Richard Smith, Ken Thomson, Alan McPhee and Donnie Fraser. Ian MacDonald remains the company secretary. In January a 19% share in the Club was gifted to Highland Hospice by an anonymous donor.
Departure of John Hughes
Less than a week after the final match against Dundee rumours began to fly that ICT and John Hughes were to go their separate ways. This was confirmed with statements issued on Friday 20 May:
Statement on behalf of the Board of Directors at Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC: ‘All of us at ICTFC would like to take this opportunity to thank John for his contribution since joining us in December 2013 and specifically his coaching skills and commitment, which helped deliver our successes, and in particular lifting the Scottish Cup for the first time in the Club’s history as well as our first foray into European Club Football. John will be remembered here at ICTFC as a member of a great winning team and we wish him every success going forward.’
Statement on behalf of John Hughes: ‘I will look back on my time at ICTFC and in the Highlands with a genuine fondness and warm affection for the Club, the area and the Community. The welcome I received from the fans and the response I got from the players throughout my two and a half years there will live long in the memory as will everything else we shared in some of the ground-breaking successes we all enjoyed together during that period. I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of my time at the Club and I would like to sincerely thank the Inverness Directors for affording me the privilege of managing what is, a fine Football Club. My gratitude goes out to every member of staff who also offered me so much personal support in my time there! I can readily assure my successor that they will inherit an excellent group of players and to each and every one of them could I also say a huge thanks for making my time with them so successful and so memorable – I wish them and the Club every success in the future.’
John Hughes will always be remembered for guiding the team to a League Cup final, a Scottish Cup win in May 2015, achieving third place in the Premiership in 2014-15 and taking the team into Europe for the first time. He will be a hard act to follow but it is certain that the post will attract many applicants.
2016-17 was always going to be a very interesting season with Rangers back in the Premiership, a new Celtic manager, Aberdeen and Hearts intent on pushing Celtic for the title, a very competitive Championship and Edinburgh City joining Division Two. To this must now be added Caley Thistle’s search for an eighth manager in 22 years. Another chapter is about to be written in the short history of ICT.