Inverness Athletic manager Stuart Ross rates Football Times Cup final opponents Invergordon highly – but is plotting their downfall at Golspie this weekend.
Invergordon go into the showdown as red-hot favourites. Not only are they top of the North Caledonian League without a defeat so far, they walked off last season with the Football Times, North Caledonian and Jock Mackay Cups.
They were beaten to the league title by first-time winners Loch Ness last season, but have a chance of retaining this year’s Football Times Cup after getting a second chance in the competition – and taking it.
Invergordon lost 2-0 against Loch Ness, who were expelled for fielding an ineligible player, a charge the Fortrose club denies.
The countdown is on to the first Cup Final of the season. 🕰️
— North Caledonian FA (@NorthCaleyFA) October 24, 2023
Reinstated Invergordon then defeated Clach and Golspie to reach the final.
Meanwhile, Inverness Athletic have overcome Thurso and Bonar Bridge to take their place in this showpiece tie at King George V Park.
Athletic boss Ross is clearly a big admirer of their rivals, who have dropped just two points from their opening six North Caledonian League outings, but he insists his team still have a fighting chance if they play to their best.
He said: “The boys are buzzing for the final.
“Invergordon have started really well this season. They normally go the other way, where they start off slowly and come at it towards the end of the season.
“They have been on the road quite a bit and picked up some really impressive results. We fully understand the magnitude of the task in hand.
“Invergordon have been over the course, so they will be well tuned in for Saturday. I like the way they play their football from the back.
“However, it’s a cup final – a one-off for us.
“I have been here before where the boys have been underdogs and we’ve gone out and performed well on the day. Anything can happen.
“We know we’ll have to be at our best to get anything from it, but we’re going into it with pretty much our full squad to pick from.”
League clash offers Athletic hope
Athletic lost 4-2 against Invergordon in the league in September, and Ross spelled out what he needs from his players for them to come out on top this time.
He added: “We know we can hurt Invergordon, although they know that too.
“We’re chuffed to be in the final and we’ll need everyone completely at it. Everyone needs to be eight out 10-plus for us to have a chance, but we’re champing at the bit. Excitement levels are through the roof.”
Second chance grabbed by holders
Invergordon manager Gary Campbell, meanwhile, felt this team’s reaction to losing their cup tie to Loch Ness, which was overturned, has been impressive – but is demanding a top display to ensure they retain the silverware.
He said: “That game could have gone either way, to be honest.
“Things changed and we got another chance, so we’ve got to make the most of it.
“We are in the final and we are the holders, so we know we’ll need to be at our best to win it.
“It’s always a great occasion to reach a final and we’re looking forward to it.”
Invergordon’s sizzling results have been noted by the rest of the division, but Campbell insists they have yet to reach their peak.
He said: “We’ve been playing okay and getting some good results. We’re not at full steam yet or playing as well as we could.
“However, results have been going our way and long may that continue.”
‘Our results so far count for nothing’
Campbell, who expects to have a full pool to pick from, reckons their red-hot results won’t matter one bit unless they rise to the challenge against capable final opponents.
He added: “When we played Inverness Athletic earlier this season, they showed they are a decent side.
“We won that 4-2, but this is a cup final and there are no real favourites. It will come down to who plays best on the day. Our results so far count for nothing, so we have to be ready.”
Loch Ness face lowly Alness United
In the North Caledonian League this Saturday, Alness United who stunned derby rivals St Duthus 5-1 in their rescheduled derby on Wednesday, are home to defending champions Loch Ness. That rousing result took Alness off bottom spot and up to 10th.
NEXT NORTH CALEDONIAN LEAGUE FIXTURES (WEEK 11) – 18/21.10.23
18.10.23 – Halkirk v Golspie (8 p.m)
— North Caledonian FA (@NorthCaleyFA) October 17, 2023
The Tain Saints, who are mid-table, make the trip to Bonar Bridge, with their hosts looking to put the brakes on a four-fixture losing slide after a cracking start to their season under new manager Bobby Breen.
Clach reserves, whose last victory came in late October, are seventh in the division and they tackle a Fort William team keen to bounce back from their 3-0 loss against Loch Ness recently, which knocked them down to third place.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Halkirk United can break into the top three if they defeat visitors Orkney to make it three wins on the spin, while bottom two teams Thurso and Golspie, who each have just three points, meet at St George’s Park.