Caley Thistle enter the New Year one of five clubs with real ambitions of winning the Championship – but where do they need to strengthen?
Head coach Billy Dodds has been identifying targets as the season has progressed and will no doubt work with chief executive officer Scot Gardiner, sporting director John Robertson and chairman Ross Morrison to land them.
For a team who have been in and around, as well as on, top spot, it’s fair to say Inverness already have a squad showing signs they can go the distance.
Currently three points behind leaders Arbroath with a game in hand, Dodds was right to suggest now is not the time for sweeping changes.
However, if they stand still and rivals Arbroath, Raith Rovers, Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle bolster wisely, they could be found wanting.
Keeping Allardice would be big boost
On the whole, there should be no large numbers of players on the way out of Inverness, with star midfielder Scott Allardice perhaps the most likely to have clubs higher up taking an interest.
Such an enquiry would not be welcome as he’ll be a key man if they’re to gain promotion via a title win or the dreaded promotion play-offs.
I’d say three new recruits are needed to stay within the pack in what is shaping up to be a chase which will go to the wire.
Ridgers remains key figure in side
One area not up for debate is the goalkeeping position, with Mark Ridgers continuing to show he’s one of the most reliable in the division.
Dodds, alongside goalkeeping coach Ryan Esson, are also relaxed with Cammy MacKay being the man to deputise if Ridgers is out or rested. That has happened in cup-ties and MacKay has looked steady.
In an interview with the Press and Journal in June, Esson explained how he sees ICT having two men ranked as number one and would have no qualms about pitching MacKay in at any given moment.
Robbie Deas has settled in well at left-back after switching from central defence and has dislodged Cameron Harper. Either can be trusted in that position, so it is not an area of concern.
Centre-half cover required
Danny Devine and Kirk Broadfoot have forged a formidable partnership in front of Ridgers.
Dodds has spoken about how impressed he’s been with them and former Rangers and Scotland ace Broadfoot recently talked up the quality of his Northern Irish team-mate.
However, what happens when either of these guys are injured or suspended? We’ve seen Sean Welsh and Scott Allardice asked to step back to cover, while Deas could revert to the centre if Harper is fit and available.
Securing a centre-half, one who can be trusted in such a pivotal role, is not an easy task, especially when they’d be back-up more often than not. However, this would be one of three positions I’d be looking to bolster in the winter market.
On the right side of defence, David Carson made a welcome return in mid-November after taking time out for personal reasons. He was pitched back into midfield due to low numbers in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Arbroath, too, which was an added bonus for Dodds.
Former Celtic and St Johnstone youth player Wallace Duffy has played nine times now at right-back and will have benefited from that run before Carson returned, so Dodds knows the 22-year-old can slot in there when needed as he did on Sunday.
For me, Caley Thistle’s midfield make-up has changed around between July and the end of the year, with Roddy MacGregor and Tom Walsh flitting in and out of the team, tasked with providing quality on the right flank.
Michael Gardyne’s influence at the start of the season on the left was there for all to see after his summer arrival after being freed by Ross County.
Doran remains wide threat to rivals
However, long-time tormentor Aaron Doran has returned to the fold and settled in well, showing he’s still an influence at 30 years old, five years younger than Gardyne.
Cameron Harper, who replaced Doran when the winger suffered an injury last week against Hamilton, looked a threat and confident away from his defensive duties and slammed home a goal in the 2-1 defeat.
Perhaps Harper can be utilised on the left in front of Deas at times, providing a healthy competitor for Doran, too.
On-loan Norwich City midfielder Reece McAlear has broken into the side and is working to good effect alongside my player of the season so far, Allardice. Keep them injury and suspension-free, with MacGregor an option too then you’ve a strong centre.
I do think, at times, Inverness do lack a wee bit of width at times. You can’t expect Tom Walsh to consistently be the one to whip balls into the box, or Doran from the left.
Billy Mckay and Carson have proved to have great crossing ability, but deliveries need to come more regularly from other sources.
So, if Dodds can find someone to provide pace and a spark on even one of the flanks, then it adds another crucial dimension.
Daniel MacKay – could he be a target?
The team on fans’ podcast, The Wyness Shuffle, suggested a bold move to bring Daniel MacKay back from Hibs, even on loan, might be worth a go.
The 20-year-old has not played for Hibs since August, although their new manager Shaun Maloney might have designs on keeping the Scotland under-21 ace, who left Inverness for Leith in May.
Striker Manny Duku recently explained he was waiting for a chance to break back into the side, with just two cup goals to his name this term.
Dodds has largely favoured Shane Sutherland sitting just behind Mckay and feels their performances are key to how the team plays overall.
Striking options waiting in wings
Ex-Raith forward Duku is hungry and determined to shine at Inverness, as is St Mirren loanee Lewis Jamieson, whose goal in the 6-1 rout of Morton took his tally to three from limited game time.
Sutherland scored twice that day, taking his number to five for the season, while Mckay is way out in front with 11 goals.
Ideally, Dodds has a striker waiting in the wings to add to provide instant firepower and support to Mckay in particular.
His team-mates have talked about how they know they must pitch in and hit the net to ease the burden from the shoulders of the number nine.
We all know that finding a reliable striker in the January window is perhaps the hardest task of all. They don’t come cheap and the location hurdle for the Highlanders is another obvious barrier.
However, with Duku, Jamieson and Anthony McDonald all eager to get a run at it, then it’s not as if there are no options.
So, in summary, my three areas ideally for recruiting from a Caley Jags’ point of view are in central defence, on the wings and in attack.