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Caley Thistle will have no play-off hangover for Clach clash, says former ICT striker Steven Hislop

Steven Hislop in action for Caley Thistle in 2004.
Steven Hislop in action for Caley Thistle in 2004.

Former Caley Thistle striker Steven Hislop reckons there will be no promotion blues hangover from his old club when their pre-season starts at Clach on Wednesday night.

The Championship’s third-placed finishers get the ball rolling again away to their Highland League neighbours in Inverness.

On Saturday, Billy Dodds’ team face another HFL opponent when they tackle Brora Rangers at Dudgeon Park.

The Caley Jags missed out on promotion at the final stages when they lost to St Johnstone last month.

After a short break, they have returned to work and are determined to land the Championship title and seal a top-table return for the first time since 2017.

Hislop, who won the First Division and Challenge Cup with ICT in 2003/04, reckons getting back to work will be just the tonic for the players, who were blown away by the Perth Saints in the final 45 minutes of an epic season.

He said: “The players will have wanted to get away from football for a couple of weeks to try and forget about it.

“But as soon they got their training gear up and got back on the training park, their mind-sets would have changed from negativity to positivity.

“They will have been eager just to get back to work and they will be preparing fully for what looks like being another tough division, as always.”

Dressed for success – Milan-style?

Clach’s Grant Street Park is dubbed as the “Ferry San Siro” and that could be the ideal first game of pre-season for ICT depending on the kits they wear.

They could look just like the Italian giants from Milan, who play at the famous San Siro, thanks to their new away strips, which look identical with black and red vertical stripes.

He said: “In my days at the club, you always knew it was pre-season when you play Clach early on.

“I noticed on Twitter, with their new kits, which are like AC Milan’s, they are off to play at the (Ferry) San Siro, which is apt. I would have liked to have played in that kit.

“These games are ideal in that there is not much travelling. The matches are better than pre-season training and they will have done all the hard running and now they just need a bit of match sharpness.

“Particularly as a manager, it’s all about avoiding injuries and sharpening up.”

Caley Jags will target knockouts

Caley Thistle’s Premier Sports Cup campaign gets started a week on Saturday (July 9) away to League 2 champions Kelty Hearts.

They then go to Premiership Livingston on July 12, host league 2 Albion Rovers on July 19 before Jim McIntyre’s Championship newcomers Cove Rangers visit ICT on July 23.

The League Cup changed format from a straight knockout in 2016, which was the last year ICT made it beyond the groups.

Hislop reckons there are more pros than cons to the competition from a Caley Jags’ point of view.

He said: “The League Cup is a catch-22 because these games come thick and fast.

“The board will be looking for a good cup run. The manager will be thinking ‘let’s just get through these games’.

“The league is the priority, but these are good games to have. There are less friendlies now and clubs use the cup as part of their pre-season.

“When I played, the League Cup was just a straight knockout, but I think I would have liked this current format of the groups.

“You can afford to lose a game or to draw or or two games and still have the chance to progress.

“If they can get out of their group, it will give Caley Thistle the chance to perhaps gauge how good they are if they draw a Premiership club as well as having played Livingston in their section.”

Nothing to fear in Championship

With League 1 champions Cove Rangers and play-off winners Queen’s Park stepping up to the Championship, Hislop is sure ICT will relish the new rivalries.

He also believes they can kick off the new league season on July 30 with a spring in their step.

He added: “The league can be monotonous, playing the same teams over and over, so to have new sides to play in Cove and Queen’s Park is good.

Inverness head coach Billy Dodds.
Inverness head coach Billy Dodds.

“Dundee are back down and they will be one of the Caley Thistle’s main challengers.

“It will be harder for the two new teams coming up. They will look at what Arbroath achieved last season and think they can match it, but that will be hard.

“Arbroath will also find it difficult to maintain what they did last season, so Inverness can be quietly confident. They need to get off to a good start again like they did last year and build from there.

“It’s difficult, because Caley Thistle never carry a big squad, so they will need to hope they stay clear of injuries.”

Wycombe defender comes on board

Caley Thistle added their third summer signing on Tuesday when they confirmed Wycombe Wanderers defender Max Ram, 21, had agreed a two-year pre-contract.

ICT have already brought in striker Steven Boyd and winger Nathan Shaw.

Ram officially becomes an Inverness player on Friday when his contract at English League One club Wycombe expires.

Meanwhile, Caley Thistle have confirmed that 16-year-old winger Kieron Willox has joined Rangers.

In a statement, the club said: “We did our best to try to keep Kieron at the club and a number of Scottish Premiership clubs have been showing serious interest in the 16-year-old winger who has been with us for six seasons, but ultimately the lure of the Europa League Finalists was too strong and we wish Kieron and his family nothing but success with Rangers.

“Our academy continues to thrive across all age groups and the fact that one of the biggest clubs in Europe is looking to sign a young man who has not even come close to playing for the first team is a credit to everyone involved in the academy, coaches, players and parents.”

 

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