Danny Devine sees no clear favourite for the Championship – but aims to ensure Caley Thistle are right in the mix for promotion.
In a truncated 2020/21 campaign, the Inverness side missed out on the promotion play-offs by a mere three points.
That surge up the table came after a stuttering start and manager John Robertson stepping away for personal reasons.
Neil McCann took over on an interim basis and recruited Billy Dodds as a coach and the duo, along with Barry Wilson and Ryan Esson, lifted the team up the division before falling just short of the top four.
Dodds has come in as the new head coach since then and Robertson is back at the club as sporting director.
Champions Hearts and play-off victors Dundee have moved up, with Hamilton and Kilmarnock relegated from the Premiership.
Tommy Wright’s Killie are the favourites ahead of Dunfermline, who have recruited smartly under new boss Peter Grant.
Most recently, they have added Graham Dorrans and Kai Kennedy to open eyes to their potential at the top of the league.
Caley Thistle are third in the list, followed by Brice Rice’s Accies and Partick Thistle, who roared up from League One.
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) July 29, 2021
It looks like the most fascinating battle for the title and promotion for many years in the second tier and Devine senses a chance for the Highlanders.
He said: “This league is so evenly-matched. In the past two years, they have been Dundee United and Hearts and they were the clear favourites, but even those teams were struggling at stage of the season because everyone is so well matched.
“There are teams that can beat one another and I don’t think there’s a clear favourite this season. Whoever wins it will have to work hard for it. It will be a hard grind, but hopefully it can be us.”
Testing conditions at Arbroath
Starting the charge away to part-timers Arbroath today will be tougher than it sounds.
Defender Devine, who made his first appearance of the season in Sunday’s 1-0 Premier Sports Cup loss at Hearts, expects a close encounter.
He said: “Arbroath is a really tricky place to go. Everyone finds that. You know what you’re getting, such as the 40mph winds. It almost makes it a 50/50 game and it comes down to who deals with the conditions the best.
“A lot of the boys have played there before though and we’re well aware what it could be like, so we just need to concentrate on ourselves and, if we can do things right, we’re 100% ready to go.”
Caley Thistle’s penalty shoot-out defeat to League Two Stirling Albion and a 3-1 loss at League One favourites Cove Rangers put them out of the League Cup before they were edged out at Tynecastle on Sunday.
The 28-year-old Northern Irishman, who has also played for Partick Thistle and Dunfermline, feels they can take confidence from their weekend display against top table opponents.
He added: “In Sunday’s game, we showed some good spells going forward, especially in the first half.
“We also showed a different side to our game with everyone working as a team and as a defensive unit. It has given us something to build on and hopefully we can put it all together on Saturday.”
Ending run of draws can be ‘absolutely massive’
A dozen draws from 27 fixtures last year dented ICT’s promotion push and Devine says the team need to find a way to edge tight games.
He said: “We knew ourselves that we drew too many games last season and that killed us a little bit. If we can turn those draws into wins it can be absolutely massive to get those extra two points.
“At times last season, we were getting into good areas but, especially earlier on in the season, we were not taking the chances.
“When you look at the players the manager has brought in, they have experience at the top end of the pitch.
“Hopefully the boys can provide the strikers with opportunities and I have no doubt they’ll finish them off for us.”