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Paul Chalk: Duncan Ferguson not one to sugar-coat things – and will know he needs January signings and consistent wins at Caley Thistle

The former Everton caretaker boss seeking to attract quality players to the Highland capital in a bid to spearhead a drive up the Championship.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager Duncan Ferguson.
Caley Thistle manager Duncan Ferguson seeks to add a few new faces in the January transfer window. Image: SNS

After 2024 kicked off with a lacklustre 2-0 loss at Airdrie on Tuesday, there is plenty of work ahead for Caley Thistle boss Duncan Ferguson.

He’s now into his fourth month in the Inverness hotseat and his prime target remains the same as when he replaced Billy Dodds – don’t let the club slip into League One.

Such a disastrous scenario at the financially-tested Highlanders would most likely lead to a mainly part-time squad, and Ferguson would probably not remain at the club to try to take them back up.

Ahead of Saturday’s Championship trip to Ayr United and then next Friday’s home showdown with Dundee United, Caley Thistle need wins to get away from the bottom two spots.

Ferguson and Caley Thistle fans have forged bond – but signings and results needed

Before joining Caley Thistle, Ferguson had been in charge of “vegan club” Forest Green Rovers for just six months in what was his first permanent management role. It didn’t work out as they parted company last summer after the club dropped into League Two.

However, advice from key contacts around Merseyside for the Inverness board was to make the former Dundee United, Rangers, Everton and Newcastle striker their number one managerial target.

Now 52, Ferguson is packed with knowledge, having worked with late former Scotland boss Walter Smith, Dutch legend Ronald Koeman, ex-Belgium and now Portugal head coach Roberto Martinez, Marco Silva – the current Fulham manager – and Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti.

When Ferguson took over at ICT, the team had one league point from six matches, albeit their defeats were all by a single goal.

And it was a brilliant start for the big-name capture when his Caley Jags career began with a swashbuckling 3-2 victory at then in-form Arbroath.

They had scored three league goals all season prior to that win, and his team doubled their tally in one afternoon.

Just one defeat came from Ferguson’s first nine games and that was a 2-1 home defeat against late-match specialists and title-contenders Raith Rovers.

Yet, what was evident amid the run, which included five victories and three draws, was a sense of frustration Caley Thistle were never quite pulling away from the lower reaches of the division, although they were adding vital points and goals to their tally.

Now, following Tuesday’s loss against the Diamonds at the Excelsior Stadium, the manager’s record is – played 14, won five, drawn five and lost four. It’s also just one victory in the last seven fixtures.

The Inverness supporters have taken Ferguson to their hearts, but there are plenty of fingers crossed he can add quality to his ranks during January.

The manager said after that debut win at Arbroath: “I am enthusiastic and know how much these fans are committed to the football club.

“They spend a lot of money and they travel up and down the country and this is the first time they have seen a league victory this season.

“It was quite emotional for me because it is never easy to win a game of football. To deliver three points for them was a great moment for me and for the team.”

Inverness manager Duncan Ferguson in the main stand at Hampden after his team beat Queen’s Park 4-1 last month. He had been sent from the touchline after receiving two yellow cards. Image: SNS.

There is no doubt the fans are still on board, but Ferguson knows only consistently positive results will take his club to where they want to be – away from trouble and challenging for the promotion play-offs. This season could go either way.

Loan moves imminent for Ferguson

Dipping deep into Ferguson’s contacts is what is required right now with the transfer window open and business to be done.

They might be fighting a losing battle in their bid to keep quality attacker David Wotherspoon, with Dundee United one of the main chasers.

But Ferguson has said from the outset he needs two or three quality additions in to help his squad, with the loan market where he will most likely be trading.

Time is ticking and he’ll hope any new arrivals are contenders for the starting 11. They have to make immediate impacts.

Caley Jags midfielder Keith Bray awaits his chance. Image: Jasperimage.

Will young midfielders get nod?

One criticism of the boss I’ve heard from supporters is that he really needs to show more faith in the younger players he has on the bench.

Talented attacking midfielder Keith Bray started four times within nine appearances under Dodds, but the 17-year-old has yet to feature under Ferguson.

Another midfielder with spark, Robbie Thompson, 19, made two starts and three appearances under Dodds, but also awaits his chance.

But with midfield one of Caley Thistle’s areas of strength, the highly-rated duo have the likes of Sean Welsh, Roddy MacGregor and Lewis Hyde to battle with in a bid to land some game-time.

Positive response from press pack

From day one at Inverness, Ferguson has treated the media with respect.

He conducts himself in a professionally classy manner, shakes all our hands before sitting down to answer our questions.

He enjoys getting to know us all and that translates locally, too, where he’s enjoying the Highland capital life and has been at many community events – even on the day he joined.

When fans watch the video clips from the club’s pre-and-post-match conferences, they appreciate his honesty.

He’ll never sugar-coat any situation. If his team doesn’t defend or finish as they should, he will say so.

The manager is only saying what we’re seeing and will not be telling anything he’s not told his players first.

“Join Big Dunc’s Highland Army” is ICT’s message as they sell half-season tickets.

I’m sure between now at the final match against Morton on May 3, there will be no shortage of drama.