Former Caley Jags midfielder Russell Duncan insists a flying start is vital for new boss Billy Dodds as he tips Hamilton to start as the Championship favourites next season.
Duncan, who won the second-tier title with Inverness in 2004 and 2010, believes Dodds will give the Highlanders a fighting chance if they can get some early wins on the board.
Dodds has just been named as the new head coach, with former manager John Robertson returning from time out and taking up the new role of sporting director.
Ex-Scotland, Rangers, Aberdeen and Dundee United striker Dodds was brought in by interim manager Neil McCann in March and that worked a treat as Inverness pushed into promotion play-off contention, missing out by just three points.
McCann pursued other avenues, leaving the top coaching role vacant and Dodds won the battle to become the new head coach.
Draw habit must be shaken off, warns Duncan
In a shortened 27-fixture season due to Covid, ICT drew 12 matches, winning only three games at home, drawing eight and losing just twice.
Duncan, 40, who spent a decade at Caley Thistle from 2001, knows from experience that slow starts toughen the task, although under Terry Butcher they made up ground to win the First Division 11 years ago.
He said: “Too many draws cost Caley Thistle in the end last season and they didn’t get enough home wins.
“That was like ourselves in 2009/10 when we didn’t win at home until Halloween then we went on a great run.
“For years, we had a better away record than home. If you can get a strong home record, it can be a stepping stone for the rest of the season.
“It’s such a tough league. You really need to get off to a good start and dig in throughout the Christmas period then anything can happen.”
Duncan hopes that Dodds, in his first head coach role, can attract talent needed to make the side into a force to be reckoned with in the Championship, with winger Tom Walsh rejoining the club this week on a two-year deal.
He stressed: “Billy knows what the Championship is like, having been there (as assistants) with Dundee and Queen of the South.
“It’s an important summer for Doddsy. They have a thin squad as it is, they always have had.
“I’m not sure what the current finances are like at the club, whether he will have money to get some boys in.
“It’s hard to attract players up here now. In the past, there was the lure of playing in the Premiership, but that’s not there anymore.
“Anyone half decent is snapped up by Ross County. It’s a case of roles reversed, because it used to be the other way round.
“Having Barry Wilson and Ryan Esson there, that’s ideal. They know the club inside out, having been there a long time.
“Billy will have all the support he needs. They will have a proper pre-season to work on things and he will get the team playing the way he wants them to play. I would imagine there will be a few tweaks in style from last season.”
Premiership duo add to the challenge for ICT
Kilmarnock and Hamilton dropped down from the top-flight to instantly become rivals for Caley Thistle.
Red-hot striker Kyle Lafferty, who scored 13 goals in 13 games for Kilmarnock, reportedly asked to have his wages quadrupled, so he will not be at Rugby Park, joining 11 others who have moved on.
There has been less movement at Accies, with former ICT number two Brian Rice remaining in charge, too.
After seven straight seasons in the Premiership, Accies dropped down last month, while it’s unusual territory for Killie, who were last outside the top table in 1983-84.
That’s why Duncan, who was also a Challenge Cup winner with ICT, gives Hamilton the early nod for being the team to beat in next term’s Championship.
He added: “This is a completely new situation for Kilmarnock, whereas Hamilton have been there before, albeit not for some time.
“I can’t see Hamilton changing too much. They have a lot of youngsters as they have for as long as I can remember. Hamilton will be better prepared for it and Brian Rice is staying there.
“Had Kilmarnock kept the players from last season, I’d say they’d have had the best squad, but, with a number of players having left, I just think from past experience I would go with Hamilton.
“Getting into the play-offs would be a good season for Caley Thistle.”