Mark Ridgers says Caley Thistle must look to use the lack of home crowd to their advantage when they face Hearts in tonight’s Betfred Cup group match.
Inverness will make their long-awaited return to competitive action at Tynecastle, nearly seven months after they played their final league game of last year’s curtailed campaign.
The Jambos suffered relegation to the Championship last season and are strong favourites to win the title at the first time of asking, with Caley Jags manager John Robertson estimating his former club will have more than 10 times his own budget.
With supporters still not permitted into Scottish grounds, goalkeeper Ridgers feels the lack of home backing for Hearts could act as a leveller in tonight’s encounter.
Ridgers said: “Nobody would be stupid enough to write them off for the Championship with the squad that they have built.
“A team like Hearts is backed by 14,000 or 15,000 fans every week, so especially this year it could level things up.
“When you look around football so far, especially in the English Premier League, you can see the effect not having fans in the stadium has on teams.
“I was watching the Manchester United game on Sunday, are you telling me that if there were 80,000 fans in there at Old Trafford United would have put in that performance? Probably not.
“The fans make a massive difference then, to the players and to the whole atmosphere in games.”
Playing at a near-empty Tynecastle will not be entirely alien to Ridgers, who spent seven years with the Edinburgh club after moving from Ross County as a teenager in 2007.
The 30-year-old added: “When I was at Hearts I played in a few reserve games and cup games where there weren’t many people there, but fans were still allowed in.
“There were training sessions too, and at some points it feels like that now.
“In an empty stadium you can hear every word that’s said, so when the manager is screaming at players there is no hiding away from it.
“Tynecastle is one that when the fans are in there, the atmosphere is incredible and it does make a huge difference.
“Hopefully if there is an advantage to be had there, it benefits us.”
Ridgers has raised concerns about the lack of shower facilities being made available to players after games, having experienced rainswept conditions in Saturday’s 1-1 friendly draw at home to Elgin City.
Ridgers added: “We are guinea pigs – we are being tested to see what’s right and what’s wrong, what works and what doesn’t work.
“It’s crazy, and I really hope that it’s looked at like we are human beings, because it’s ok for the public to use showers in the gym.
“That’s what I don’t get, because they are interacting with more people while everyone at a football stadium is getting checked and following guidelines.
“Come the end of the game, it’s just like ‘on you go’, so I hope it’s looked at.”