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Richie Hart: Caley Thistle can soar under Duncan Ferguson

The ex-Inverness play-maker says landing the ex-Everton star and caretaker manager as the boss raises the levels at the Caledonian Stadium.

Former Caley Jags star Richie Hart, pictured in 2006 at the Caledonian Stadium. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
Former Caley Jags star Richie Hart, pictured in 2006 at the Caledonian Stadium. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Former Caley Thistle star Richie Hart reckons recruiting Duncan Ferguson has raised the levels at the Championship club.

The ex-midfielder spent six years with ICT from 2002 and helped the club win promotion to the top-flight for the first time in 2004.

Eight defeats over nine winless game at the start of this season led to boss Billy Dodds and assistant Barry Wilson being sacked.

It came just a few months after their 3-1 Scottish Cup final defeat by Celtic and missing out on a second successive play-off spot on the last night of league action.

Ferguson, who starred for Dundee United, Rangers, Everton and Newcastle also coached at Everton and was caretaker manager at the Premier League Toffees.

Hart believes landing Ferguson offers the ninth-placed Highlanders a real chance of more than a survival battle in 2023/24.

Ferguson gives ‘everyone a lift’ – Hart

He said: “Billy Dodds and Barry Wilson did a really good job at Caley Thistle.

“However, I think there had to be a change just because results had not been going their way. They had done as much as they could and the club maybe just needed new impetus.

“To recruit someone of Duncan’s stature will have given the whole place a lift, got everyone buzzing again and that’s what was needed. Things had maybe become just that little bit stale.

“With the experience Duncan has, having played and coached at the highest level, standards will be extremely high.

“Hopefully, this will give the club the change and direction it needed to move forward.”

Richie Hart, left, in top-flight action in 2004 against Aberdeen’s Scott Severin. Image: SNS Group

Ferguson ‘ticks a lot of boxes’ for ICT

A four-match unbeaten run since taking over has seen Ferguson’s team move off bottom spot by one point, but crucially move to within striking distance of several sides.

Hart believes the immediate Ferguson impact can lead to a steady rise over the coming weeks.

He said: “It’s always the same names that get mentioned for jobs when they come up in Scotland.

“Out of the blue, it was Duncan Ferguson. Very few people would have thought he would even have been on their radar.

“He ticks a lot of boxes for what I felt the club needed. It needed freshness and someone with new ideas, someone with that passion, experience and professionalism.

“This is an opportunity for Duncan as well to show what he can do in the Championship, which is a very tough league.

“However, if he can put any sort of run together, as Caley Thistle have shown in this division in previous seasons, one minute they could be second-bottom, the next you’re in and around the play-offs.

“If he can build upon this current run, confidence will get higher and higher. Who knows where they could end up?

“They could be right up the table and Duncan could have them pushing for the promotion play-offs.”

David Wotherspoon, left in action for ICT against Dundee United’s Glenn Middleton. Image: SNS Group

New signings offer extra dimensions

And Hart believes signing ex-St Johnstone attacking midfielder David Wotherspoon and ex-Dundee forward Cillian Sheridan can give ICT added bite after they penned deals initially until January.

He added: “Caley Thistle have a really good squad, including some excellent young players, some of whom have had a couple of years of playing in the Championship.

“Duncan has added the experience of David Wotherspoon and Cillian Sheridan, while Billy Mckay is still there and doing a great job. If Sheridan gets fit and starts firing, you have another really good striker there.

“Wotherspoon is a really good player and has come back from a long-term injury. Again, if he can stay fit, he could be a vital player for Caley Thistle.

“Injuries have hampered the club in the past couple of seasons, so if they can avoid those and keep their run going then there is no reason why they cannot climb the league.”

Kicking on after Dundee United draw

And Hart, who also starred for Ross County, Dundee and Brora Rangers, says Saturday’s fine 1-1 draw at unbeaten leaders Dundee United will offer Ferguson and his players further confidence no matter who they face, with Ayr and Dunfermline next up.

He said: “Saturday was always going to be the first real test for Duncan. It was going to be a measure of the progress they’ve been making in these early stages.

“Dundee United have been going so well, scoring plenty goals and are quite rightly top of the league with their performances so far.

“To come away from Tannadice with a point was a really positive result for them. It’s never an easy place to go and the draw maintains Duncan’s unbeaten start.

“Getting a point at Dundee United shows they seem to be heading in the right direction and they should be confident going in against anybody in the league.

“From what I have seen and read about Duncan so far is that he’s brought a real enthusiasm to the club and to the team, which rubs off on the players.

“He’s obviously got that stature about him. It’s clear he’s an enthusiastic guy. I think that passion he has rubs off on the players.”