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Analysis: Game over for Billy Dodds but blame must be shared at Caley Thistle

A nine-game winless run left the Inverness boss out of a job - but questions run deeper than the dugout at the Caledonian Stadium.

Caley Thistle head coach Billy Dodds with the Scottish Cup last season. Image: SNS.
Caley Thistle head coach Billy Dodds with the Scottish Cup last season. Image: SNS.

Three months after leading Championship Caley Thistle out for the Scottish Cup final at Hampden, Billy Dodds is no longer in charge of the Highlanders.

A dreadful start to the 2023-2024 campaign has cost the former Scotland, Aberdeen, Rangers and Dundee United striker his job as head coach.

The decision of the Championship club to end Dodds’ contract on Sunday will not have been a surprise to most onlookers, despite the manager only signing a new two-year deal in the summer following a tedious “will he/won’t he?” delay.

Dodds’ stock was high then, after going down 3-1 to treble-winners Celtic in a national final, and the only question was why was the board taking so long to tie their boss down?

But the mood around Inverness in recent weeks has been a far cry from the positive end to last term.

Saturday’s decent display against Raith Rovers counted for nothing in the end as ICT’s latest loss, their eighth defeat in nine winless outings, left them two points behind Ayr United at the foot of the second-tier table ahead of this weekend’s fixture against Dundee United.

Sore Viaplay Cup defeats set tone at start of dismal campaign so far

Caley Thistle’s successive Viaplay Cup defeats against Dumbarton, Airdrie and Dundee put them out of the competition at the group stages. Not the ideal start to the season.

Those early set-backs were followed by taking just one point, at home to Dunfermline Athletic, from their first five league fixtures. They’ve been beaten by Queen’s Park, Airdrie (again), Ayr United and now Raith.

The 1-0 defeat by Raith was the first loss to Rovers in the league for 23 years, leaving ICT alone in 10th place – and further heightening fans’ fury.

There was, sadly, no way back for Dodds after this.

Hot and cold streaks feature of ICT under Dodds – but near-promotion miss in 2021/22

As ever, in these horrible situations, there is split in opinion about whether Dodds deserved more time at Inverness.

He had the backing of some sections of the support, who acknowledged he was trying to keep the team competitive with a low-level budget.

However, Dodds himself accepted every defeat boosted the numbers and the volume of supporters who were no longer on his side.

On several occasions recently, he had called his team “streaky” – due to their tendency during his tenure to go on great runs which produced euphoric highs or barren runs leading to desperate lows.

In 2021/22, Caley Thistle kicked off with six victories and a draw and were talked about as strong title-pushers.

However, an 11-match winless run of six draws and five losses over a three-month period shattered any dreams of league triumph.

A late-season burst of form took them into the promotion play-offs where they beat Partick Thistle without fuss in the first round and squeezed past foes Arbroath on penalties in a nail-biting nine-man semi-final victory.

Caley Thistle players applaud the fans at full-time
Caley Thistle players applaud the fans after losing to St Johnstone in the play-off final in May 2022. Image: SNS.

However, their two-leg play-off final against St Johnstone saw the drive for long-awaited promotion back to the Premiership run out of steam.

A pulsating 2-2 home draw was followed by a 4-0 McDiarmid Park defeat in an away leg which had been 0-0 at half-time.

Late surge almost saw Inverness set up another play-offs tilt last term

After a minimal summer break, an injury list stretching into double figures all too often hampered their hopes of the Championship title and, seemingly, promotion last season – yet had they beaten Ayr United in the final round of regular league fixtures in May, they’d have been in the play-offs once again.

But streaks were again the theme of the 2022/23 campaign.

An eight-fixture run without a win mid-season was wiped out by a home-straight surge of six victories and a draw. And although their final-night loss to Ayr shunted them down to sixth spot, it was a brave, brave effort in the end.

The results this season, however, have been brutal. One point from 15 is alarming.

Fans will be frustrated at figures in the club’s hierarchy beyond those in the dugout, and while the players’ efforts have never been in question, they must improve their performances quickly to avoid this being a season of fighting relegation.

Billy Dodds (left) and chief executive Scot Gardiner when the manager was confirmed at Inverness in June 2021.

Have ICT board backed Dodds?

Was Dodds backed well enough from by the boardroom men in terms of money for key signings during his spell in charge?

I know many supporters feel let down on that front – especially following the club’s Scottish Cup final windfall at the end of last season.

However, some believe Dodds should have gone when Inverness missed out on promotion in Perth, or – despite the national final berth – after missing out on the play-offs entirely last term.

When failure is the outcome, it is up to those from the top down to take their share of the blame and, to use the well-worn phrase, learn lessons going forward. It should happen in any misfiring organisation.

It is worth pointing out, though, Dodds’ win percentage of 40% is largely on a par with the best of his predecessors – though some of those bossed Caley Thistle at lower levels.

Two-time manager John Robertson, who guided the club into the top-flight in 2004, shares the top billing with Steve Paterson on 45.5%. Pele took ICT as high as the second-tier.

Dodds never shirked a question

Perhaps the least important part of this story is how I found Dodds personally, but it’s still worth a mention.

I knew him from his Ross County days, where as assistant to Jim McIntyre he helped the Staggies win the League Cup.

From then, and throughout his two-plus years in charge at Inverness, he never once refused a question or an interview.

His work in the media with the BBC, prior to joining Inverness as interim boss Neil McCann’s assistant at the end of the 2020/21 season, afforded him the knowledge that fans need answers. He was up there with the very best bosses I’ve reported on in almost 25 years in that regard. I wish him well.

McCann and John Hughes will be two early names mentioned as successors.

I believe a reasonable case could be put forward for either of those candidates if that is indeed what they become.

For the time being, two ex-managers in Charlie Christie and John Robertson will share dugout duties, while the hunt for a permanent successor to Dodds gathers pace.