Duncan Ferguson hailed Caley Thistle’s “incredible” turnaround as they prepare to host title-chasing Raith Rovers to Inverness.
The ICT manager came into the Championship club in September, to replace Billy Dodds, with the side bottom of the pack with one point from their first six fixtures.
Three wins and three draws has lifted the team into seventh spot and out of immediate trouble, and they hold a five-point gap over basement side Morton.
Saturday’s visitors Raith are unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions and sit just four points behind leaders Dundee United with a game in hand.
With United’s game at Morton frozen off, Rovers can move to within one point of first place with a win at the Caledonian Stadium.
In Dodds’ final game in charge in September, a late smash-and-grab 1-0 Raith win in Kirkcaldy was the Fifers’ first league victory over ICT in 23 years.
🔜 The Matchday Info ahead of Saturday's game against @RaithRovers
🎟️ https://t.co/iOIFJ8EV0e – get tickets in advance to save money
🚗 Car Parking Info
🍺Sports Bar open from 1pm on Saturday. Home & Away fans welcome.
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) November 30, 2023
Ferguson – ‘We want to keep it going’
Ferguson praised his players for responding to his and assistant Gary Bollan’s arrival and wants them to rise to this fresh challenge against a top team.
He said: “It has been an incredible turnaround really, both in results and performance, and we want to keep that going.
“In football, it can end very quickly, we know that, but we will keep on working as hard as we possibly can. Hopefully that will take us a long way this season.”
Caley Thistle troubling top teams
Despite being low on numbers due to injuries, Raith swept local rivals Dunfermline Athletic away 3-0 in the Scottish Cup last week – just six days after ICT were held 1-1 by the Pars at East End Park.
However, having held Dundee United to a draw at Tannadice last month, Ferguson hopes his players can show their quality against another big-hitter.
He said: “It’s obviously going to be a really difficult game for us.
“They’re the second-best team in the league and they’re pushing Dundee United all the way.
“They have changed shape a couple of times, so we’re not sure how they’re going to play, but it’s one we’re looking forward to even though it will be tough.
“They are two different games, but we can definitely take something from our draw at Dundee United.
“Dundee United are the top team in the division, and we got a draw against Partick Thistle when they were third in the table as well, so we can compete well.
“It certainly gives you confidence that we can take on the big boys, and Raith Rovers are certainly one of them.
“They turned over Dunfermline the other week, and we really struggled against Dunfermline and were very lucky to get away with a draw.
“That shows you that Raith Rovers are a very good team.”
Gayfield win set the ball rolling – boss
Ferguson’s first match in charge was a 3-2 victory against then in-form Arbroath. He reckons that was the immediate launchpad for his players to continue their strong form.
He added: “You’re always hoping that you can hit the ground running, and that first result is key to buy everyone in.
“Going back to Arbroath, our goalkeeper Mark Ridgers makes a great save to keep us in the game, and once you get that momentum and confidence that can take you a long way.
“We managed to hit the ground running and get that first result, and we have continued that on.
“I did look at a couple of games before I came in, against Raith and Dundee United, and they weren’t far away. They only got beaten by the odd goal, so I knew the squad was capable.
“They probably just needed a different voice, and a different tactical set-up.
“I’m really pleased with the way they have responded, and once we got that first win, we were moving in the right direction.”
Kicking clear of bottom place is key
Overall, ICT are seven successive fixtures without defeat after last week’s hard-fought 2-0 Scottish Cup victory against Lowland League Cowdenbeath.
While the unbeaten run brings the top-four in the league within sight, Ferguson insists they must not walk before they run in their bid to kick clear of the danger-zone.
He said: “You’re always thinking about what could be possible, and I’m a positive coach, but we need to get away from the bottom of the league.
“That’s the thing first and foremost, we need to get clear of the bottom to try and work our way up the league.
“You only do that with wins. I’m making sure we push away from the bottom of the league, and then we’ll see where that takes us.”