Billy Dodds kicks off his second year in charge of Caley Thistle on Wednesday and he will expect the unexpected if the past 12 months are anything to go by.
The former Scotland, Aberdeen, Dundee United and Rangers striker was another big-name capture for the Inverness club.
He joined the coaching team at ICT last March when then interim manager Neil McCann brought the ex-Ross County and Queen of the South assistant boss in to add extra expertise to their ranks.
McCann had been brought in by chief executive Scot Gardiner to replace boss John Robertson, who took time away from it all on compassionate grounds.
Assistant manager Scott Kellacher was also away from the club due to illness, so further coaching knowledge was needed to bolster the ranks containing Barry Wilson and Ryan Esson.
Dodds’ impact drove ICT up division
Inverness, at the time, were too close to the drop zone, but the McCann-Dodds partnership from mid-March helped yield six straight wins.
A late-season dip of two draws and three defeats saw ICT miss out on the promotion spots by a mere three points.
However, fans were impressed and, once it became clear McCann was not in for the job on a permanent basis, Dodds was firmly installed as the favourite to become the new boss.
His coaching background, allied with extensive work with BBC Scotland, made him a respected figure.
June 1 last year was when he was unveiled, with Robertson becoming ICT’s first sporting director.
A new gym beside the Caledonian Stadium and ambitious plans for a sporting hub beside Inverness Royal Academy are two main benefits of his work over the past year.
Cup exit before rousing league start
Last year’s group stage exit extended their run without knockout Premier Sports Cup football to six years, but Dodds was barely in the door reshaping his squad, fitting in signings such as Billy Mckay, Michael Gardyne and Manny Duku.
New faces will no doubt arrive throughout June, July and August, but hitting the ground running in a Premier Sports Cup section containing Livingston, Cove Rangers, Kelty Hearts and Albion Rovers.
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It’s not an easy Group G for ICT, but Dodds will be determined to drive the 2014 runners-up beyond the last 16 in a competition he won seven years ago with Jim McIntyre at Ross County.
After bowing out of the cup in 2021, six successive league wins, a draw at Hamilton, followed by a victory over Queen of the South had ICT cruising and all was good for the club under Dodds.
Between October 23 and December 11, Caley Thistle won just three of 11 fixtures in all competitions.
Arbroath sunk…after tough winter
It was telling that Gardyne, who netted five goals since the start of the season, played his last game for Inverness in a 2-1 home loss to Dunfermline on November 13 and his contribution was certainly felt.
Dodds said losing Gardyne and having midfielder Scott Allardice sidelined with a knee injury from January until sub appearances in the play-off final loss last month were two big losses to their team.
Following an emphatic 6-1 rout at Morton a fortnight before Christmas, Caley Thistle failed to post a victory since a sweeping 3-0 win over title-chasing Arbroath in March.
That was 11 matches without a win, but – as Dodds pointed out – six draws within that period always kept them in the promotion chase.
In fact, throughout the whole regular Championship season, Inverness were never beaten by more than a goal.
Defeating Dick Campbell’s high-flyers followed many calls from sections of the support for Dodds to walk. He knew it, but insisted the tide would turn and it certainly did.
Loan stars delivered for Dodds
His hand was forced a little through injury, but Dodds was not afraid to pitch on-loan Norwich City starlet Reece McAlear into the limelight – and his wonderful goals and contribution were high points.
On-loan Dundee United attacker Logan Chalmers, brought north by Dodds in the winter window, had another positive impact with big goals at key times.
For Chalmers, few can forget his last-gasp double to turn a defeat into a 3-2 win at Raith Rovers just a week after that victory over Arbroath.
Momentum carried ICT into play-offs
Six wins, one draw and one slip-up at Queen of the South took ICT storming into the Premiership play-offs in third position.
Never had a quarter-finalist made it all the way to the top-flight, but a 3-1 aggregate win against Partick Thistle took them into the semis against Arbroath.
A nerve-shredding, gutsy, penalty shoot-out win at Gayfield, despite two red cards, earned the right to face St Johnstone over the two-legged final.
Dodds had given it his best shot and showed, when he changed formation and personnel midway through the first leg of the final, he will think on his feet, react to what’s before him.
Shaping squad for fresh title push
Dodds might well be trying to get a rest of sorts right now, but as a head coach or manager, you can never switch off.
The club have tabled offers to Sean Welsh, Aaron Doran, Shane Sutherland and Wallace Duffy and targets have also been identified with a view to becoming summer signings.
Making an impact in the cups is high on the agenda for Dodds and Inverness, but there’s a bigger goal to aim for.
In the Championship, a strong start, without the stuttering middle section, will give Dodds and his men a fighting chance of going all the way.
Avoiding the promotion play-offs and winning the title would be just reward for a manager learning and improving all the time.