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Charlie Christie: Caley Thistle’s opening-day rivals Queen’s Park are on the up

Former Inverness manager and player backs the Highlanders to be in the title mix - but admits the Spiders will be tough first first opponents.

Former Caley Thistle manager. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson
Former Caley Thistle manager. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson

Charlie Christie reckons Caley Thistle’s opening day Championship opponents Queen’s Park are setting themselves for a determined push towards the Premiership.

The Spiders finished third last term, beaten by Partick Thistle, who went on the lose a dramatic play-off final against Ross County last month. 

Inverness, held back by injuries for much of the year, fell at the final hurdle when a 2-1 defeat against Ayr United resulted in a sixth-placed finish and no play-off spot. 

The Glasgow club have redeveloped Lesser Hampden and have employed Dutchman Robin Veldman as their head coach, replacing Owen Coyle, who stepped down at the end of the campaign.

The new term fixtures were released on Friday and Billy Dodds’ side start against Queen’s at the Caledonian Stadium on August 5 before back-to-back away clashes at Ayr United and newly-promoted Airdrieonians.

‘Big bonus’ to start at home

Former ICT midfielder and manager Christie, whose son Ryan stars for Scotland and Bournemouth, believes everything about their day-one rivals points towards top-level football.

He said: “It’s a tough opening fixture. Queen’s Park were one of my favourite sides to watch last season under Owen Coyle.

“They played some really good stuff and had two or three of my type of players in their team, boys who are very good on the ball and showed good movement and rotation off the ball.

“Whether that will change much now they have a change of manager, we will see.

“Looking at their infrastructure, they would be hoping to push for at least the play-offs again, if not the title itself.

“They are building towards something at Queen’s Park, even with one or two of their appointments behind the scenes and the development of the stadium (at Lesser Hampden). They are gearing up to be a Premiership team.

Queen’s Park’s new manager Robin Veldman. Image: SNS Group

“The big plus for us is that it’s a home fixture to start with. No matter who you play, that’s always a huge bonus.

“We follow it up with two awkward away fixtures (against Ayr United and Airdrieonians), so it makes it even more important we come out of the Queen’s Park fixture with at least one point, if not three. We can’t afford to go into those away games without a point on the board.”

Favourable run-in for title push?

Inverness, as they did last year, travel to Partick Thistle just before Christmas, on December 23, before host Morton seven days later.

Their final five matches are against Arbroath (April 6), Queen’s Park (April 13), Raith Rovers (April 20), Dunfermline (April 27) and Morton (May 3).

Christie believes the final run-in towards a potential title or promotion surge is favourable for the Highlanders.

He said: “The three sets of fixtures I look at are the starting games, the Christmas fixtures, then the end of season.

“To be fair, we finish with a home game against Morton, so we start and finish with home fixtures.

“The April games are not too bad, so if we are in the mix come April, we will give ourselves a real chance.

“We need to finish the season a lot better than we did this year. Reaching the play-offs is what we have to do at the very least. For us not to make the play-offs is a hugely disappointing season.

“This is the seventh year running we’ve been in the Championship. We need to get out of this league.

“We need to get into the Premiership, we have spent too long in the Championship. And we need to get off to a good start.

“While there are some good sides this season, I honestly don’t feel as if there is anything to be particularly scared of.

“Billy knows he needs two or three good replacements for the quality players we have lost in Robbie Deas and Scott Allardice as well as Daniel MacKay and Jay Henderson (who has just joined Ross County).

“We have lost a fair bit of quality, so it is important the guys we bring in are of an equal ability. If they are, there is no reason why we cannot be right up there.”

Viaplay Cup action starts in mid-July

Before the league action begins, ICT have the Viaplay Cup group stages to get set for, with League Two opponents Bonnyrigg Rose first up in Group E when they visit on July 15.

Three days later, Dumbarton, also of League Two, host Inverness, with Championship newcomers Airdrieonians (home) on July 25 and Dundee, last season’s second-tier winners, at Dens Park on July 30.

Christie reckons Caley Thistle will need to hit the ground running in a competition he feels could be better scheduled.

He said: “I welcome the structure of the Viaplay Cup, but just not at this time of year.

“It really does make it difficult, especially after we reached the Scottish Cup final, which was on June 3. We were the last team at our level to play.

“It has been a short break and boys do need recovery.

“In terms of the cup, it comes in at a time where previously you’d be playing pre-season games.

“And pre-season games are vital, especially in the situation we’re in, where we could lose as many as seven or eight players potentially (including loanees Dan MacKay and Henderson).

“It will be difficult for Billy and his staff to get boys bedded into the side. Some teams are using the cup to bed their players in for their upcoming league fixtures.

“For me, it detracts a bit from the competition. I know we’ve been in the Scottish Cup final twice in the past eight years, but overall you don’t get chances often to try and win national cup competitions.

“The timing is not ideal, and most coaches and managers would say that. Of course, the fixture calendar is so congested and there is no other time you can play it. The powers-that-be have their hands tied a bit.”