INVERNESS enter the second half of their 2017 league campaign aiming to re-launch their season with a determined effort to move away from the drop zone.
Currently the city side occupy the relegation spot in the Marine Harvest National Division and unless team manager Drew MacNeil can engineer a change in their fortunes, his side are in danger of dropping into the area league setup next season where they would be mixing with the reserve teams of Premiership clubs.
A morale-denting series of heavy defeats has plunged the Bught Park outfit into the danger area, largely due to a vulnerable defence which has shipped 23 goals in their last four matches. At the half way mark MacNeil’s side have gleaned just two points from their opening seven matches and have yet to record a league victory in 2017.
With a negative 17 in the goal-difference column, concern is mounting.
A 1-1 draw earlier in the season at the home of tomorrow’s visitors Inveraray is the highlight of the current campaign and MacNeil will be encouraging his squad to go one better against the Royal Burgh side in front of a home crowd.
But his options have become limited with three key players – Charlie and Sorley MacDonald and Dougie Rankin – expected to be missing tomorrow.Under-21 star Charlie MacDonald is recovering from dental surgery while Rankin sits out the second of a two-match suspension after being sent off in the 5-3 defeat against Oban Celtic.
MacNeil will be banking on his former Fort William team mates James Cameron and Padraig MacNeil to start the battle to beat the drop. The duo are his top scorers this season with ten goals between them in all competitions.
Meanwhile Strathglass are also facing a fight for survival in the National Division.
They sit two points better off than Inverness with a game less played and face Caberfeidh at Castleod. Over the years there have been memorable battles between these two clubs but the home side will be favourites tomorrow as they begin to crank up their Premiership promotion bid.
Strathglass’ return to top level shinty got off to a flying start at the beginning of the current season when Dave Balharry’s side held Caberfeidh to a 2 - 2 draw. A repeat tomorrow would ease the relegation pressure a shade further.
Elsewhere, as a result of action in the Artemis MacAulay Cup in the south involving three Premiership sides, there is a shortened fixture schedule in the sport’s top league with only two matches on the card.
But there is the prospect of a cracking match at Kiltarlity where Lovat take on reigning champions Newtonmore fresh from their MacTavish Cup triumph and anxious to close the gap between themselves and current league leaders Kyles Athletic.
For Lovat there is the opportunity to move into the top half of the table. They are on a four-match unbeaten sequence as they head into a vital few weeks, where they are facing quarter-final matches against Lochaber in the MacAulay Cup and Kilmallie in the Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup.
Team boss Fraser Gallagher hopes to name a full strength side as he attempts to avenge a 4-2 defeat at Newtonmore earlier in the season.
Elsewhere Lochaber, second from bottom, face title-chasing Kinlochshiel who have John MacRae and Conor Cormack suspended.
In the area leagues North Division One basement sides Glenurquhart and Beauly meet at Blairbeg where a win for the home side would see them leapfrog Beauly and consign the Braeview Park outfit to bottom place.
In North Division Two Boleskine entertain Lochcarron, with the Smith Park side desperate for the points to move away from the wrong end of the table. Utility player Peter Tinney is suspended.
In the south, the Bullough Cup takes prominence with four games taking place. Inveraray and Kyles Athletic colts are involved.