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Pathway open for young talent to shine and excel with Inverness Athletic

Inverness Athletic manager Stuart Ross. Image: Inverness Athletic
Inverness Athletic manager Stuart Ross. Image: Inverness Athletic

Inverness Athletic co-manager Stuart Ross hailed the strong team spirit which is taking the club high within the North Caledonian League.

Athletic, who are based at Ferry Brae, North Kessock, this season, have made massive strides under the guidance of brothers Stuart and Andrew Ross, formerly successful with St Duthus.

In 2021/22, the club finished ninth with 16 points. After 12 matches so far, they are fourth and have banked 19 points.

A 3-2 loss against Loch Ness at Canal Park, Inverness, last weekend means any slim chance of a title tilt has all but gone.

However, they are handily placed to make this the best campaign so far for the six-year-old club.

Co-boss Stuart Ross is thrilled the route from youth level to senior team is a seamless path for the talented players who apply themselves and make the grade.

He said: “Since we’ve come in the door, everyone is pulling in the right direction for the club.

“There is a real pathway for the club’s youth to come through. We’ve managed to get quite a lot of the under-18s into the squad this year. I don’t think we’ve ever had less than two on the bench over the first 12 games, which is really good.

“Eight players from our under-20s stepped up this year and five or six of them are starting regularly. We have another eight coming from the under-18s, who will be too old for that age group next year, and they’ve been firmly involved this season.

“That was the remit I had with chairman Sandy Stephen when I came in. The amount of points we’ve been picking up has been fantastic – all credit to the boys. They work and train really hard. They fight for one another.

“And, you can see on Saturdays, they are all mates, they all have that connection and that puts us in good stead for picking up points.

“The aim was to improve on last season and we’ve done that already. However, now is not the time for standing still – we have to keep progressing as a club.

“There’s a lot more to come from this squad, which is still young – many have not played in the North Caley before. Hopefully we can be even stronger next season.”

Athletic’s 3-2 defeat at pacesetters Loch Ness last week also had the prize for the victors of the DJ Macphee Memorial Trophy.

This was presented in memory of striker Donald Macphee, who played for both clubs, and who died last December, aged 34.

The game and raffle saw £2250 raised for Mikeysline, the mental health charity based in the Highland capital.

Athletic pushed leaders all the way

Allan MacPhee struck the winner for Loch Ness on 87 minutes and Ross felt this was a cruel result, given what his players put into the match.

He said: “We expected a tough game and we got a tough game. We felt we could have come away with a point after conceding a goal so late.

“In the first half, we were a bit off it and Loch Ness were better. A draw would have been a fairer outcome, but it wasn’t to be.

“It is also worth noting we were delighting to be part of the day for DJ. It was really good to raise such a great amount for such a good cause in Mikeysline, which we as a club firmly get behind. The two clubs came together for the cause.”

Ross on high alert after lift for Nairn

There are six positions and nine points between Inverness and Saturday’s visitors Nairn County when they meet at North Kessock at 1pm.

The sides shared six goals when they met in Nairn last month and the Highland League club’s youth side come into this game on the back of a stirring 4-3 home victory against Halkirk United, fuelled by a brace from Sam Gordon.

Ross reckons their opponents’ latest result shows what they’re capable of and complacency won’t be a factor as far as he’s concerned.

He added: “Nairn proved on Saturday you cannot take any game lightly and we certainly won’t.

“Halkirk have been going well and they have beaten us. They are a really good outfit, so that was a terrific result for Nairn. We will have to be at it to beat Nairn.”

Chasers take on current champions

Leaders Loch Ness will be confident of at least maintaining their eight-point advantage when they take on basement side Bonar Bridge, who gave St Duthus a run for their money in a 3-2 defeat last week.

Second-placed Golspie Sutherland, who have a game in hand against Loch Ness, will have to defeat defending champions Invergordon if they are to keep pace with the flyers from Fortrose.

Invergordon, recent winners of the Football Times Cup, are 11 points off top spot, but have played three fixtures less than Loch Ness. Victory would put them back in the hunt.

Third-placed St Duthus welcome Fort William to Tain and they have one more point than their opponents. A victory for either of these teams, who each have two games in hand on the front-runners, could see them join the title race.

Elsewhere, Halkirk United are home to Alness United with each having 18 points on the board, while Clachnacuddin ‘A’ are off to Orkney who, at ninth, sit two places above the young Merkinchers.