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Paul Third: Next two games will shape Caley Thistle’s season

Reece McAlear was on the scoresheet as Caley Thistle beat Arbroath 3-0
Reece McAlear was on the scoresheet as Caley Thistle beat Arbroath 3-0

It has taken them three months and one day to record another win but Caley Thistle’s 3-0 victory against Arbroath could be a defining one in the club’s season.

When Billy Dodds’ side beat Morton 6-1 at Cappielow on December 11 the win kept them one point clear on 34 points of the chasing pack in the Championship after 17 matches.

In the 11 games which had followed Inverness had picked up the sum total of six points and slipped to fourth in the table.

Had they failed to beat Arbroath at Caledonian Stadium on Saturday a worrying drop down the league would have reached crisis levels as Raith Rovers would have leapfrogged them into the play-off place.

The drop-off in form has been hugely worrying for a club which, only a few short months ago, looked to be rising to the challenge of being title contenders.

What went wrong in the last three months?

There is not one reason which can be given for Caley Thistle’s campaign stalling but what has been apparent has been the club’s inability to break the horrendous sequence of results.

Confidence and morale has dipped as a result – how could it not? – but Saturday’s win must be the point where Inverness draw a line in the sand.

Billy Dodds gesturing on the side of the pitch
Inverness head coach Billy Dodds.

The title aspirations were done and dusted a few weeks ago and Saturday’s result has not changed that.

Rivals Arbroath and Partick both lost but with a 10 point gap between new leaders Kilmarnock and Caley Jags the chances of Derek McInnes’ side being caught by Inverness in the final seven games is slim to none.

If Inverness are to win promotion this season they are going to have to do it the hard way.

Play-offs are Caley Thistle’s best chance of going up

The play-offs are Caley Thistle’s aim now and, barring a late collapse from Arbroath who are second on 51 points, it looks to be a three-horse race between Partick, Inverness and Raith.

The next two games for Dodds and his players are vital and will go a long way to deciding whether they will make the play-offs.

On Saturday, they travel to Stark’s Park to face Raith knowing victory will give them a four point cushion on John McGlynn’s side.

The following weekend four of the top five face each other, with Rovers heading to Gayfield to face Dick Campbell’s Red Lichties while Killie welcome Partick Thistle.

As opportunities to improve their standing in the league go, it does not come any better for Inverness who will welcome former manager John Hughes and his Dunfermline side back to Caledonian Stadium that same weekend.

It all sounds so simple when you say it loud.

Win the next two games and potentially you could be seven points clear in the play-off race with five games remaining.

Lose them both and you could be five behind.

That’s how precarious this play-off race has become for the sides involved.

All season it has been five teams contesting the top four in the Championship and it has been apparent someone was going to be left playing the role of odd club out when it was all said and done.

Inverness, despite a dire run of results, still have their fate in their own hands and must channel their energy into ensuring they are not the club left on the outside looking in after the final games of the campaign are played on April 29.

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