Billy Dodds praised his Caley Thistle players for arresting a mid-season slump – and responding to become promotion hunters.
Inverness were in danger of slipping out of the top five in the Championship when they failed to win a single game over an 11-game run between December and March.
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A 4-0 win against Hamilton on Friday has lined them up nicely for their Premiership two-legged play-off quarter-final against Partick Thistle this week.
On Tuesday night, they travel to Glasgow to face the fourth-placed Jags at Firhill before hosting Ian McCall’s men in the second leg on Friday.
Team ‘knuckled down’ to strike back
Head coach Dodds stressed the entire squad rolled up their sleeves when it mattered to turn the season from disappointing back to thrilling – in line with their sizzling start to the campaign.
When asked about the turnaround, he said: “We could have folded and accepted it – and that’s when it comes down to mental strength – but we never did that.
“We knuckled down and got on with the job. I was so positive and I know what the squad is all about.
“We were going through a bad time and the hardest thing was to turn it around.
“But I knew we could. I knew we were capable. That’s exactly what we’ve done and we’re in a really good place in terms of our performance levels and positivity (around the club).
“It has been a long season and it has taken a lot to get here, but there has been a collective to bring it together and the boys have done it brilliantly.”
Only top performances will do ICT
One loss in their last eight games for Inverness compares well to Partick’s two wins in nine.
However, Dodds underlined his side have to go and earn the right to face Arbroath in the semis next week.
He said: “We’re showing a good bit of form at the right stage of the season. We have to go into these games with the right mindset and focus.
“We have to ensure we’re at the top of our game, because it will take a big performance over these two legs to get us through to the semi-finals.”
Star Walsh in frame after double?
Winger Tom Walsh was dazzling in the 4-0 win over Hamilton on Friday by scoring two and setting two up.
Dodds said Walsh is in his thoughts, as are others – such as young Lewis Hyde and striker Joe Hardy, who got his first ICT goal.
The boss said: “A lot of the players who came in on Friday have given me something to think about.
“I am discussing my options with my staff and we hope we make the right choices to give us the edge to win the game.
“We never had numbers on the bench the other night against Hamilton, but we had quality.
“This is not about individuals. It is a squad game.
“I needed my full squad when we toiled from December to March and my squad has brought us through.
“Credit to the players. I have got choices to make. There will be a few disappointed, but they need to show me when they are disappointed the right reaction, because, when they do that and my subs come on and make a difference, that’s a blessing for a manager.”
Problem pitch in mind for Dodds
Partick’s problematic pitch has been the talk of the season. Their ground-sharing deal with tenants Queen’s Park has not made it conducive to free-flowing football, although there has been a bit of improvement of late.
ICT lost 1-0 on their last trip there in March and Dodds admits the rutted pitch is a consideration on how they will play.
He said: “It had an effect the last time we played.
“We can’t take any chances, you have to play what’s in front of you.
“I’d be crazy to say we’re going to Thistle – where the pitch isn’t in the best condition – and we’ll try to get the ball down and pass it.
“We’ll try to pass at the right times in the right areas, but, if I said to build it from the back, lock me up!”
Partick Thistle will ‘work socks off’
It has been level-pegging in the four meetings with Partick this season and Dodds expects these two legs to be also closely contested.
He said: “We have drawn with Partick twice and we’ve won one apiece. That tells you all you need to know about Partick Thistle.
“We have got to be at our best. We’re in a good frame of mind – now we have to show it on the pitch.
“They will be difficult opponents who work their socks off and they have a good shape about them.
“When you’re third and fourth in the league and in the play-offs, it is self-explanatory how hard these games will be.”
Fitness concerns ahead of play-offs
There will be late assessments on the fitness of injured defenders Kirk Broadfoot, Danny Devine and Wallace Duffy, and midfielder Aaron Doran.
Dodds added: “Danny (Devine) obviously had a head knock down at Queen of the South, so we’ve been monitoring that.
“Kirk has had a niggle in his back, so we’re choosing the right games for him. He has had a long season – he’s 37, but he’s been fantastic.
“There are a couple who haven’t played in preparation, but there have been a couple who are still carrying knocks, and those are the ones we’re waiting on.”