Better late than never as Inverness Caley Thistle fan Nathan MacKenzie reviews the Highlanders season, but I guess he does have an excuse. Too much partying maybe?
How did it come to this? Qualification for Europe, a highest ever league finish and unbelievably of course last Saturday a first major trophy.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle started this season as the bookies favourites for the drop. With the second smallest budget in the league and only one summer signing (Lewis Horner who signed from non-league Blyth Spartans) it was only right that the bookies backed Hughes for an early sacking and for ICT to battle out next season in the second tier.
However the bookies and pundits were made to eat their hats. The season before had seen Hughes try and change the clubs playing style from the kick and rush under Terry Butcher to a Tika-Taca passing style used by the likes of Guardiola at Barcelona.
Many thought Hughes was bonkers, insane even.
But this change in style which cost Inverness a maiden major trophy last season in the form of the League Cup as well as European football was to eventually pay off big time for Chairman Kenny Cameron who now rightly backed Hughes to deliver.
John Hughes had his greatest ever season in management and more than deserved the end of season managerial accolades he received.
A promising preseason led to a terrific start to the Premiership season with early wins over Hamilton Accies, Motherwell, Kilmarnock and a second string Celtic side meaning Inverness went into September as Premiership leaders.
Key to this early form was a strong defence with Dean Brill starting the season with five consecutive clean sheets.
Inverness have the smallest squad in the division with no more than 16 first team players.
But what Inverness lack in quantity they more than make up with quality. Both Grahame Shinnie and Josh Meekings made BT Sports SPFL team of the year along with Scotland’s young player of the year Ryan Christie and many of ICT’s top players including Gary Warren and Marley Watkins could feel hard done by not to have made the end of season squad as well.
Caley Thistles amazing start to the season included three unbeaten months in August, October and January. This put some of the Jags top stars in the sights of bigger clubs.
A major loss came with the news that Billy McKay had joined Wigan Athletic whilst Grahame Shinnie signed a pre-contract with rivals Aberdeen. However the club were lucky to hold onto a number of first team stars.
The initial loss of McKay didn’t have the extreme detrimental effect many ICT fans expected with the club scoring eight goals in four matches before the arrival of an actual striker in Nigerian international Edward Ofere.
Ofere who was initially very short of fitness became a target man to supply winger-come-striker Marley Watkins.
Watkins has the pace and desire to trouble any defence and it was him above all others who had a great end to the season along with captain fantastic Grahame Shinnie.
Aberdeen are getting one of Scotland’s best full backs in Shinnie and I’m certain he will be part of a very dangerous Aberdeen side next season.
Without a doubt, the biggest moment and biggest game of the season was last Saturday’s Scottish Cup final when goals from Marley Watkins and James Vincent led ten man ICT to win its first ever major trophy.
Falkirk put in a great performance and on another day they would have went on to win the cup, however this squad of players has shown great strength in character and tenacity to comeback in the face of adversity to win.
There were a number of other memorable moments and games throughout the season. From victory at Dens Park which secured European football to #MeekingsGate and Super Caleys ballistic comeback victory over Celtic at Hampden Park when Dave ‘the rave’ Raven sunk Celtic’s treble hopes.
It’s hard to pick out a key player for Inverness this season with so many players having a great year.
From Brill and Esson in goals. Warren, Raven, Meekings and Shinnie in defence. To Draper, Williams, Tansey, Vincent, Ross and Christie in midfield to Wakins, McKay and Ofere up front. To a man, each of ICT’s players at some point this season helped contribute to the clubs greatest ever season.
Pushed, I would say Liam Polworth failed to live up to his potential and was the greatest let down. Rumours are the boy has failed to fit in with the close knit community at the club and many times this season he has looked like he would rather be anywhere else than the Caledonian Stadium. Estonian international Tarmo Kink was also a disappointed as he failed to break into the team.
After a season as successful as this one I can only see Inverness going backwards. I would be surprised if even with European football we are able to hold onto most of our top players. Rumours are already going round that the club are set to lose Watkins and Christie with Watkins set to join team mate Shinnie at Aberdeen.
However my expectations this time last season were very low and yet I have just witnessed the greatest season in the clubs history. Hopefully I am again surprised by this amazing club and this amazing group of players.
If anything Inverness fans can look forward to the clubs maiden European campaign. Maybe with some shrewd signings and the progression of a number of our impressive young players we could challenge again towards the top of the Premiership table.