Caley Thistle forward Shane Sutherland feels his side have given themselves a strong grounding for the Championship season despite failing to qualify from their Premier Sports Cup group.
Inverness ended their Group A section with a 1-0 loss to newly-promoted Premiership side Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday, having already been out of contention to reach the last-16 prior to kick-off.
After opening with a 2-0 victory over Peterhead, the Highlanders’ next two matches proved to be their undoing, taking just a point from two matches against Stirling Albion and Cove Rangers.
Caley Jags produced a far more sound defensive display against the Jambos, who required Jamie Walker’s fine 75th minute strike to triumph, and Sutherland feels the match was an important step ahead of their Championship opener at Arbroath on Saturday.
He said: “We are disappointed we didn’t get through in the cup, which was our main aim, but now we have full focus on Arbroath on Saturday and we will look to start the season well.
“In the previous games we were the higher league team, and we dominated the ball more than we did against Hearts.
“It was good to have that different side, where we had our backs against the wall at times against really good, clever players with pace. We looked harder to play against.
“We had to stand up against it, but we were a threat and I’m sure Hearts probably felt that.
“It took a really good goal for them to win the game. We made them work hard and we got a lot of out of it. We will kick on from this.
“There is plenty to build upon as the most important thing starts when the league campaign kicks off on Saturday.”
Sutherland has been an impressive performer despite Caley Jags failing to get out of their section, with the 30-year-old opening his goalscoring account for the campaign with a neat finish in the 2-2 draw with Stirling.
New head coach Billy Dodds has strengthened his attacking options by bringing in Manny Duku, Billy Mckay, Michael Gardyne, Tom Walsh and Lewis Jamieson, and Sutherland feels the added competition can help him to thrive.
The former Elgin City player added: “I think you need that as you can get too comfortable.
“If, for example, you play 4-4-2 and there are only two strikers in the team, you are thinking you are playing every week.
“You don’t want that, you need competition to keep you on your toes and push you. It’s a good thing.
“It’s good boys we have brought in as well, it’s not boys who are going to throw their toys out of the pram if they are not playing.
“They will be encouraging the boys who are playing, and if they come on they will try to make a difference themselves.
“The manager has brought in plenty experience and plenty attacking players, but, whoever has the shirt on Saturday, it’s down to them to perform and work hard to keep the shirt.”
Sutherland is wary of the threat posed by the Red Lichties, who are entering their third successive Championship campaign and are now the only part-time side in the division.
Sutherland added: “It will be a tough game. Their home record is brilliant, I don’t know the stats behind it, but there are not many teams in Scotland who have a better one.
“It will be a different game. They maybe won’t have the ball as much as Hearts did, and they may have a little less quality, but they do have really good players all over the pitch.
“We will do our homework on them, we will work hard in training this week and give them the respect they are due.
“If we go out and do what we are trying to do, we are hopeful we will win the game.”