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Caley Thistle chief Scot Gardiner hails boss Billy Dodds for turning horror run into promotion push

Caley Thistle head coach Billy Dodds.
Caley Thistle head coach Billy Dodds.

Caley Thistle chief Scot Gardiner praised Billy Dodds for fighting back from the brink to lead the club to the cusp of the Premiership – and says he has ‘every chance’ to take them up next season.

As head coach Dodds celebrates one year in charge of Inverness, Gardiner admits it took nerves of steel earlier this year when the pressure was on the 53-year-old to turn around a horror run.

The Highlanders were 11 games – and three months – without a win and restless sections of the support were calling for change, something Dodds was well aware of.

Billy Dodds (left) and Caley Thistle chief executive Scot Gardiner.

Crunch talks centred on the boss, who insisted he would stop the rot. Cue a rousing 3-0 home win against Arbroath in March and ICT didn’t look back.

A dramatic, last-gasp 3-2 victory at Raith Rovers took ICT third in the Championship the following week and that’s where they finished thanks to a consistent run of strong results.

They defeated Partick Thistle and Arbroath before losing to St Johnstone over six long play-off ties as the team almost wrote a fresh piece of history by becoming the first quarter-finalists to go all the way to the top-flight.

‘Things had to get better’ – Gardiner

Inverness chief executive Gardiner spelled out how challenging it became, but highlighted how vital it was for cool heads when the heat was on.

He said: “Between December and March was a really difficult time for the club.

“The trigger-figure for certain clubs to react to poor form is seven games. We reached 11 matches and we spoke to Billy every day about it. We were right on the edge and he knew that. It’s a results-driven business.

Inverness head coach Billy Dodds.

“Inverness has a reputation as a club for not being trigger-happy, for good or ill. There were a couple of crisis board meetings where there were frank discussions. Billy was at one meeting in particular which was definitely a crisis meeting. Things had to get better.

“Billy deserves tremendous credit, because he’s stubborn but certainly not to the point where his intelligence is affected. He believed in what he was trying to do and he believed we would turn the corner.

“The question was could we turn the corner quick enough. The turning point was the Arbroath game, which was an incredible afternoon at the stadium. The emotion for everyone was palpable, but mostly for Billy.

“Billy has a job to do and, I and the board have a job to do. We have a duty of care to supporters, stakeholders, partners, sponsors and the players and coaches. It was difficult, but after beating Arbroath in March we didn’t look back, apart from one game at Queen of the South.”

Kirkcaldy comeback was crucial

Gardiner explained that late recovery to win at Stark’s Park was in line with how the season was to go.

He said: “You would sum up our season from that 88th-minute to 93th-minute at Kirkcaldy. At 88 minutes, we had slipped to fifth in the division. At 90 minutes, we were fourth and on 92 minutes, we’d risen to third. We never moved from third after that.

Logan Chalmers (left) and Austin Samuels (right) celebrate ICT’s 3-2 win at Raith Rovers.

“If there was a microcosm of a season, it was those five minutes. That’s when players such as Logan Chalmers came to the fore and went on to have a tremendous end to the season.

“Had we won promotion, ‘five minutes in Kirkcaldy’ would be the name of the book. Beating Arbroath stopped the rot and gave us the platform, but what happened in Kirkcaldy for me was the microcosm for last season’s Championship.”

Testing times away from the park

Gardiner, who appointed Dodds 12 months ago, explained off-the-field matters, and the impact of Covid, presented larger hurdles for Dodds to overcome as form dipped in turn.

He said: “Things were going well and we had issues we had to deal with off the field, which had a really negative impact in October and it’s no surprise it coincided with the stumble in form we took.

Scot Gardiner.

“In November, I ended up in Raigmore Hospital on oxygen for a week. I was in a terrible state with the virus, which made me very ill, very afraid of what was happening to me.

“I was trying to speak to the chairman and Billy and, no one could see me. You felt helpless, you were taken out of the loop.

“We had good and bad results around that time, stumbling through. Then we went on a dreadful run. Off-field issues definitely affected us. We were never trounced but we were just not performing well enough.”

Chief backs Dodds to win promotion

Under Dodds, ICT won their opening six league games and finished so strongly to roar into the play-offs.

Gardiner has seen enough to suggest the club can go one step further next term.

He added: “Billy gave us the equal best start in this club’s history.

“As a manager it has certainly been a baptism of fire. He went through dealing with things no one should have to go through.

“He went on such a poor run where things were extremely fraught, but he came through it all and turned it around. We finished the season like a train.

Billy Dodds celebrates after the dramatic penalty shoot-out Premiership play-off semi-final win at Gayfield.

“He faced adversity and overcame it. Billy doesn’t get perfect marks, because we didn’t get promoted, but for a first season, it was impressive.

“Billy lives and breathes football and this club. I know it is a seven-day-per-week job, or obsession or burden. Being a football manager is the loneliest position, because it is all on you.

“In the end, Billy did a remarkable job. He has certainly passed muster.

“It has to set him up positively. He can take heart from his first year in charge.

“We appointed Billy last year, because we felt he was the man who can take us up – and he very nearly did. We still believe he can take us up, so we will back him – he has every chance to get us up.”