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Caley Thistle boss Duncan Ferguson wants to lead club back up after relegation to League One

A 5-3 Championship play-off final aggregate loss to Hamilton Accies sends ICT down - but the manager calls for a chance to stay on.

Gutted Inverness manager Duncan Ferguson at full-time. Image: SNS.
Gutted Inverness manager Duncan Ferguson at full-time. Image: SNS.

Caley Thistle have been relegated to League One after crashing 3-2 against Hamilton in the second leg of the Championship play-off final, losing 5-3 on aggregate.

Manager Duncan Ferguson reacted by saying he is up for the challenge of leading ICT back up, having signed a three-year deal when he replaced Billy Dodds last September.

He said: “I don’t sign a contract lightly. I came here when the side were bottom of the league with one point (from the first six league games).

“We were in the automatic relegation spot. I got us 19 points above bottom place.

“I got us three points away from fifth place.

“The league was crazy this season and we’ve seen how teams play. It’s football.

Fans on the park at full-time. Image: SNS.

“When you don’t get results you want, this can happen in the play-offs.

“I do want to be here as long as the club feel I am the right man.

“But also we need to look at the whole club behind the scenes and everything.

“It has been a big challenge for me at this club. I have tried my very best to lift the team up. It is a tough one to take.”

With the first leg finishing 2-1 to Accies, early goals from Kevin O’Hara and Lewis Smith in Inverness had them coasting at 4-1 overall, but Cammy Kerr brought ICT back into the contest after half an hour.

O’Hara’s penalty on the stroke of half-time made it 3-1 on the day and 5-2 on aggregate, before a late Alex Samuel goal to reduce the arrears for doomed Caley Thistle.

Inverness are back in the third-tier of Scottish football for the first time since they were promoted under Steve Paterson 25 years ago.

Sections of the home support vented their fury not just towards the players and management, but also towards the board – as they have done for some time.

After finishing ninth in the Championship by a whisker, Ferguson’s Highland side beat Montrose 1-0 in the play-off semis, while League One runners-up Accies beat third-placed Alloa Athletic to book their final spot.

Hamilton – bossed by former Caley Jags star John Rankin – had been on a hot-streak as they aimed to follow unbeaten League One champions Falkirk back to the second-tier they were relegated from 12 months ago.

One year ago, under Dodds, Inverness were preparing to play Celtic in the Scottish Cup final, which ended in a proud display in a 3-1 Hampden defeat.

A poor start to this season cost Dodds his job and under Ferguson they came so close to staying up.

But scoring just 41 goals in 36 games carried more weight than having the second-best goals-against column in the league behind champions Dundee United.

Cammy Kerr gets ICT on the scoresheet at 2-1. Image: SNS.

Inverness began the second leg on the front foot and early shots from Pepple and Billy Mckay didn’t hit the mark.

However, Accies got the early goal, as they did in the first leg and, as he had been in that game, ICT keeper Mark Ridgers was luckless as main striker O’Hara’s shot from 20 yards went right through him after just eight minutes.

The final seemed all but out of reach four minutes later when Lewis Smith accepted a pass from O’Hara and guided a swerved shot into the left corner out of Ridgers’ reach.

However, Pepple’s shot was blocked by goalkeeper Dean Lyness after Mckay and Cammy Harper weaved into the box as Caley Thistle pressed for one back.

And they got it back to 2-1 and 4-2 overall on 31 minutes when Kerr accepted a pass from Mckay and cleverly picked his spot with a low shot into the bottom left-hand corner.

Savage went close with a header soon after and Inverness knew if they could score another, the final would be up for grabs.

Hamilton’s Kevin O’Hara celebrates after scoring his second of the game, making it 3-1. Image: SNS.

However, Hamilton were given a golden chance to extend their lead four minutes before half-time when a foul by Savage on Henderson resulted in a spot-kick, and O’Hara slammed the penalty just beyond Ridgers, to the right.

The shouts against Inverness CEO Scot Gardiner intensified from the home stands. It was unpleasant.

At the start of the second half, ICT sub Alex Samuel was brought on for defender Savage as they had three forwards on the park, needing three goals just to secure extra-time.

Inverness manager Duncan Ferguson. Image: SNS.

A mazy run by Luis Longstaff down the right almost brought joy, but Accies defended the cross to avert any threat from the attackers.

A few injuries to Accies’ players were stacking up, with the delays adding to the frustration for Ferguson and his men.

Time ran out though with nothing of note for Inverness. The effort was there, but the outcome had been clear since Hamilton’s third goal here.

Samuel lashed home a late shot, from a turn on the spot, in the final seconds, but it mattered not.

Supporters, many furious and frustrated, let their feelings known on a night of raw emotion in the Highland capital sunshine.

Fans from both sides were on the park at full-time, with very different emotions on show. “Sack the board” was one of the chants.

There are big changes ahead on and off the park at Caley Thistle. Decisions which will shape the future as they plot their way back up from August.

Accies, who were a Premiership club three years ago, will feel they have momentum for another promotion push next term.

Player ratings

CALEY THISTLE (3-5-2): Ridgers 5, Carragher 6, Savage 5 (Samuel 46), Boyes 6, Longstaff 6 (Samuels 77), Kerr 6, Lawal 6, Anderson 5, Harper 6, Mckay 6 (MacGregor 71), Pepple 6 (Brooks 80).

Subs not used: Cammy MacKay (GK), Duffy, Ujdur.

HAMILTON (4-2-3-1): Lyness 6, Tumilty 6 (Hewitt 46), Owens 6, McGowan 6, Longridge 6 (Kilday 62), Martin 7 (Murray 88), Barjonas 3 (MacDonald 21), Henderson 6 (Rose 88), Williamson 6, Lewis Smith 7, O’Hara 7.

Subs not used: Jamie Smith (GK), Hastie, Winter, Hendrie.

Referee: Euan Anderson.

Attendance: 2863.

Man of the match: Kevin O’Hara.