A tale of two managers. Inverness were absolutely flying under the guidance of Terry Butcher (wow that’s a weird sentence to write now). Expected to struggle after the departure of Andrew Shinnie in the summer, instead they became even stronger with Butcher fitting in another players that bought into his high tempo brand of football, with his deployment of Richie Foran in the deep-lying playmaker role a tactical masterstroke (there’s another one!). Billy Mckay was scoring goals for fun, they were challenging for second place in the table. Things were, well, great.
Then Hibs came calling. The most ill-advised mutual flirting since Sid and Nancy first gazed into each others track-marks took Butcher away from the Caledonian Stadium and in came John Hughes instead. For Inverness fans, it was the same feeling the kid from Liar Liar had towards his mum’s boyfriend. ‘Yeah, he’s a nice guy and all, but he’s not Jim Carrey. He can’t even do the claw right!’ Hughes promised to change nothing of what Butcher had done so well (that claw analogy is looking pretty good here) but in the end he just decided to rip up the previous blueprint and decided that he wanted Inverness to play like Barcelona – no, really, there’s quotes and everything. The players didn’t suit the tempo of play being slowed right down and results suffered as a result. In the end they were nowhere near second, though they did earn a small consolation from beating St Johnstone on the last day of the season to ensure fifth place. Yaaaaay!
There was, however, the drama of the League Cup. After defeating Hearts by pulling off the most unlikely comeback since Rick Rubin picked up the phone and dialed Johnny Cash’s number, Inverness faced off against fellow northerners Aberdeen in a tense final. Unfortunately the penalty kick gods that had been so kind to them in the semis weren’t in their favour this time and Aberdeen lifted the trophy.
Erm… Ben Greenhalgh left.
There was no understating the importance of Richie Foran last season. When he played Inverness had a much greater chance of winning the game. If Hughes wants the team to play a sort of rhythmic football then it’s important that the most influential voice in the dressing room buys into the philosophy and is able to encourage others to keep implementing it while they are on the park.
Foran is the undoubted leader within the team. Straight-talking, loyal and just a pretty impressive human being to be around, which is odd because fans of all other teams think he’s a ****. But that’s the beauty of him as a footballer. The guy that you absolutely hate but would love him if he wore your colours. He’s not a bad player, either.
If you don’t rate him for anything else, you’ve got to admire John Hughes’s guts. There must be countless managers up and down Britain and across Europe who’ve looked at Barcelona and thought “I want to try and replicate that”. He’s not brought in any players because they wanted to concentrated on keeping the squad they had, which they’ve done, and will train these guys to be better footballers and to develop that almost telepathic understanding which marked out Barca at the peak of their powers. Hughes isn’t doing this half-heartedly. He’s putting all his chips in on this one, which is the only way it is going to succeed. And, personally, we hope it does. It’s fun to laugh at Hughes and we obviously get a lot more enjoyment out of that than the average Scottish football observer. But it’d be great to see a Scottish team succeeding while playing that style of football.
Will Billy Mckay find his shooting boots again?
The striker dropped off alarmingly after another terrific scoring stat. It’s the second season in successive that he’s followed such a trend though, in his defence, he did appear to be affected by the change in manager more than any other individual player. Mckay thrived in Butcher’s inside-out, quick moving system. He’s a willing, quick and intelligent runner who spots gaps in a stretched defence and can exploit them. Despite the lion’s share of his goals coming inside the penalty area he’s not a classic poacher type. In crowded penalty areas he doesn’t quite carry the same threat. That’s why it hurt him when Hughes moved to a patient build-up. The space that he worked in was squashed down.
He is an intelligent striker and there is time on his side with his relatively young age. Hughes will know himself that he’s got to get Mckay – in case you didn’t know, it is actually spelled with a small ‘k’ – confident in front of goal once again. We expect Mckay to have adjusted during the summer months and to hit the ground running once more when the season gets underway.
We think they’re going to do pretty well. They’re not going to resemble Barcelona, but they’ll be a patient passing side who boast an incredible goalscorer (Billy Mckay), a creative talent (Aaron Doran), scores of reliable hard working midfielders (Foran, Greg Tansey, Ross Draper, James Vincent) and a solid back four led by Gary Warren and Josh Meekings. Every year teams in Scotland lose their best players. Inverness hasn’t done that. And regardless of what style of football they play, that gives them a great advantage
Finish: 4th Place