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Ex-Caley Jags ace and Arbroath number two Steven Hislop tips ICT to put up best title fight

Former Caley Thistle striker Steven Hislop.
Former Inverness striker Steven Hislop.

Former Caley Jags striker and ex-Arbroath assistant boss Steven Hislop backs the Highlanders to be at the forefront of the chase for the Championship title – knocking the Angus shock troops from top spot.

Dick Campbell’s part-timers Arbroath are the leaders, three points clear of ICT, who have a game in hand. Sunday’s 0-0 draw between the sides at Gayfield kept the gap as it was.

Raith Rovers, who are Saturday’s visitors to Inverness, are only one point behind Billy Dodds’ team, but have played one match more.

Steven Hislop (left) and David Bingham (right) with their boss John Robertson after Caley Thistle Thistle beat Airdrie United to win the Challenge Cup in 2003. Both players scored in the 2-0 win.

With Derek McInnes confirmed as the new Kilmarnock manager, the Rugby Park club are in fourth spot, two adrift of Caley Thistle and five points away from Arbroath.

They made the former Aberdeen boss Tommy Wright’s replacement on Tuesday after sacking the Northern Irishman last month.

Fifth-placed Partick Thistle have at least one game in hand over the top four and are within striking distance of reaching any of the leading positions should they win them.

Campbell transformed Arbroath

Hislop suggested with a smile that being axed at Arbroath along with boss Todd Lumsden’s in March 2016 with the team toiling in League Two helped them launch an astonishing surge to the top of the Championship under Campbell, who replaced them.

He said: “The best thing they did was sack Todd and I – because they then got Dick Campbell in.

“Perhaps, to be honest, I will take a bit of credit for where the club are!

“It’s a typical Dick Campbell team. Really good honest players, who are also good technical players. Arbroath will be there or thereabouts.

“I don’t think, however, they will win the league. They will certainly be in the mix for the play-offs.

“Now we’re in the second half of the season, most teams will know what they’re like and they’re going to lose Joel Nouble (back on loan from Livingston), although they’ve brought in Jack Hamilton on loan from Livi. I just think the full-time teams will be too strong for Arbroath.”

McInnes will attract players to Killie

Hislop, who won the second-tier title with ICT under John Robertson in 2004, reckons McInnes will bolster Killie’s title hopes, but also backs Dodds’ squad to be boosted in the window to have a real shot at glory.

He said: “I would expect Caley Thistle and Kilmarnock, now with Derek McInnes in charge, to be up there. Getting Derek is a big coup for Kilmarnock.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes does not expect to have transfer funds available next month.
Former Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes is the new Kilmarnock boss.

“It’s a tough league to win, but it’s exciting times for Caley Thistle. I’d like to think they will strengthen their squad now and give it a real push for promotion.

“I thought it was a bit strange to get rid of Tommy Wright at that stage of the season. Maybe they were panicking a wee bit, but getting Derek in will attract players to their club.

“Raith are still there and I know John McGlynn is fairly confident as well with experienced guys such as Jamie MacDonald and Christophe Berra. Partick Thistle are still in there too and can’t be ruled out.”

Stakes high as rivals lock horns

Hislop, who also starred for Ross County between 2001 and 2003, expects another tight affair when Raith arrive at the Caledonian Stadium this weekend and reckons not losing ground against a direct rival is so vital.

He added: “Sometimes, you go into these games with a ‘don’t lose’ mindset. Of course, you want to win it, but any manager just won’t want to lose. There seems to be big games every week in the Championship.

Inverness CT head coach Billy Dodds.

“As much as I’ve got a lot of time for Raith, who are another of my former clubs, hopefully Caley Thistle will get three points this weekend.

“As a player, these are games you want to be involved in. It would be great for Caley Thistle to go up and we’d hopefully have two Highland clubs back in the Premiership.”

Fans shut-out is blow – Hislop

Due to Scottish Government guidelines, only 500 fans can currently attend games in Scotland because of rising Covid cases.

Hislop hopes that changes to allow the Inverness supporters the chance to get right behind a title charge.

He said: “Not having as many fans in will suit Arbroath, but Caley Thistle will want as many fans in as possible.

“When you are going for promotion, fans want to be there. They’d rather that than be watching on a screen in their living rooms.”

Stormy point valuable to Caley Jags

Sunday’s goalless draw amid the gales of Gayfield on Sunday meant ICT escaped with a point.

Caley Thistle’s 1-0 opening day of the season 1-0 win there is Arbroath’s only home loss of the season and Hislop insists Inverness will treasure the point dug out there.

He added: “Caley Thistle will be delighted they don’t have to go back there.

Arbroath manager Dick Campbell.

“On a good day everywhere else, it’s still blowing a gale at Arbroath. It’s not an easy place to go to and Inverness will be delighted to have taken a point on Sunday.

“Avoiding defeat was probably the objective and they still have a game in hand.

“We won the league from much further behind than they are and if you can get results over a good run of games then you never know what can happen.”