Caley Thistle head coach Billy Dodds reckons Cove Rangers and Arbroath are proving part-time teams in the Championship are the real deal.
Saturday’s hosts Arbroath were only one win away from going up as champions in May after a remarkable season for the Angus part-timers.
League 1 winners Cove Rangers have stepped up and already drawn with ICT in the Premier Sports Cup before losing in a shoot-out, then defeated Raith Rovers 2-0 in last weekend’s opener.
ICT began their league season with a 1-1 draw against play-off winners Queen’s Park and Dodds is not getting caught up in the hype surrounding the possibilities of his side’s opponents.
Dodds wants early win at Arbroath
However, he feels Jim McIntyre’s Cove are the latest example of a capable group of part-time players who can more than simply cope with life in the Championship.
He said: “Cove Rangers have shown already that people thinking they are a part-time team who are going to try and just stay in this league, that might not be the case with their results so far.
“That is where it started for Arbroath last year. Their manager, Dick Campbell, was telling them they are a good team, then they get the results, they reinforce it and go on that run (to second place).
“We hope to put that flame out and get a good result there on Saturday. If we can win this game, what a good start to the season it has been, through to the second round of the League Cup and four points out of six.”
Gayfield tough venue for most sides
Dodds believes the Angus side proved their quality at home last term, which was a surprise to many folk, who thought facing part-time opponents only meant one outcome.
He said: “Last season, going to Arbroath, people at first thought you’d turn up there and win because they’re a part-time team.
“But, after losing to us on the opening day of the season, they were unbeaten at home for the rest of the season. It’s a tough place to go and we know how closely-matched the teams are.
“It will be about who has got the best mindset and you hope the players with that bit of creativity create something special.
“We know where we need to be at, mentally and physically, to try and win the game.
“Arbroath have still got the foundations of their squad from last season.
“Yes, they have lost (Joel) Nouble and (Jack) Hamilton but they’ve brought in (Kieran) Shanks and they still have the spine of their team there.”
Battling display needed at Arbroath
And the Caley Jags return to the scene of their incredible play-off semi-final penalty shoot-out win in May, which was earned despite red cards for defenders Danny Devine and Wallace Duffy in a stunning back-to-the-wall display.
Ultimately, ICT’s promotion bid ended in the play-off final when they lost to St Johnstone.
However, the spirit, doggedness and quality which took them over the line in that shoot-out will be required once more to leave Gayfield with a win, according to the boss.
He said: “That (play-off) game felt especially long, with the sendings off and with it going to extra-time and penalties.
“We want the same commitment again and you have to have that when you play Arbroath because they certainly have it.
“We realise it will be a tough game. But we won there in our first league game last season and we’re hoping to do the same.”
Last season’s results won’t matter
ICT were the only Championship team to win on Arbroath’s home turf in 2021/22 and over six encounters they only leaked one goal against Dick Campbell’s men.
That came in October when a wind-assisted Michael McKenna free-kick earned the Angus visitors a 1-0 victory on a horribly bitter night at the Caledonian Stadium.
When asked about their five clean sheets in six against the Red Lichties last term being a real mental edge going into the weekend’s game, Dodds added: “I hope it is an advantage, but as much we are similar, and they are similar, I know how tough it will be.
“We know that (solid run of results against Arbroath) won’t win us the game. We must have the same type of performance and look to score a goal or two.
“I want that solidity and base to build from. I don’t want to leak goals and I want our creative front players to take chances.”
Devine, who came off the bench against Queen’s Park last week after a spell on the sidelines, is pushing for a start this Saturday, although fellow defender Robbie Deas will serve the second of his two-match suspension.