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How did Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s season end in relegation?

By Will Clark

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Manager Duncan Ferguson at full time yesterday.
Manager Duncan Ferguson at full time yesterday.

It will go down as arguably the worst season in the history of Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

A 5-3 aggregate defeat to Hamilton Academical in the Championship Play-off Final has condemned Inverness to relegation to League One and playing in the third tier of Scottish football for the first time in 25 years.

Almost 12 months ago, Inverness Caledonian Thistle reached the final of the Scottish Cup and pushed champions Celtic all the way in a 3-1 defeat at Hampden.

Now, after yesterday’s disastrous defeat, Inverness will have to prepare for trips to Annan, Dumbarton and Dumfries in League One next season. Where seven of their nine rivals in the division have artificial pitches.

So where did it all go wrong for Inverness Caledonian Thistle last season.

We take a look at the highs and lows of the 2023/24?

Billy Dodds sacked as manager in September.

Billy Dodds.
Billy Dodds.

Former manager Billy Dodds and assistant manager Barry Wilson were sacked on September 17 after a winless run of nine matches.

His reign was brought to an end after a 1-0 defeat to Raith Rovers in Kirkcaldy as they were rooted to the bottom of the table with just one point from five games.

They were also knocked out of the League Cup group stages after defeats against Airdrieonians, Dumbarton and Dundee with only a 2-1 win over Bonnyrigg Rose at the Caledonian Stadium.

Charlie Christie and John Robertson took temporary charge of the team until a permanent replacement was found.

Duncan Ferguson confirmed as the new manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle

It was a box office appointment which sent shockwaves around Scottish and British football.

Former Everton, Newcastle United and Rangers striker Duncan Ferguson was the appointment that nobody saw coming as he was unveiled on September 26.

Ferguson joined Inverness two months after he was sacked as manager of English League Two club Forest Green Rovers, after less than six months in charge.

His first game in charge was a 3-2 win at Arbroath which drew nationwide attention from the Scottish press.

Ferguson had an encouraging start as manager, going undefeated in his first six Championship matches and also defeated Cowdenbeath in the Scottish Cup.

His first defeat as boss didn’t come until December 2 when they lost 2-1 at home to eventual league runners-up Raith Rovers. However at the time, things looked optimistic that Inverness could get out of trouble.

Loss of key players during January transfer window

Inverness Caledonian Thistle said goodbye to some long established fan favourites and those who made a big impact in a short space of time.

David Carson. Picture: James Mackenzie.
David Carson. Picture: James Mackenzie.

David Carson left Inverness during the January transfer window to move to Scottish Premiership club Livingston. The 28-year-old had been at Inverness since joining the club in 2019 from Morpeth Town. In his five years at the club, he became a fan favourite playing at right back and in midfield.

Sean Welsh..
Sean Welsh..

Sean Welsh also left the club by mutual consent in January and went on to sign for Championship rivals Queen’s Park.

The 33-year-old joined Inverness in August 2018 and in his first season at the club, won the club’s Players’ Player of the Year Award. He became the club’s captain in the 2020/21 season.

One player who made a huge impact in a short space of time was midfielder David Wotherspoon, who joined Inverness on a short term deal in October after being released from St Johnstone.

He scored on his debut in the 1-0 win against Airdrie in October and went on to be named Cinch Championship player of the month in November.

Inverness offered Wotherspoon a new deal to remain at the club, but he opted to sign for Dundee United, but failed to make an impact at Tannadice.

Loan players brought in during transfer window.

Duncan Ferguson made use of the loan market to bring in players to try and salvage Caley Thistle’s hopes of staying in the Championship.

They included Max Anderson (Dundee), Morgan Boyes (Dundee), James Carragher (Wigan Athletic), Jeremiah Chilokoa-Mullen (Leeds United), Cammy Kerr (Dundee), Samson Lawal (Livingston), Sean McAllister (Everton), Aribim Pepple (Luton Town) and Alex Samuel (Ross County). Most loan players featured in the second half of the campaign.

Inverness beat Queen’s Park to move out of the relegation zone with three games to go

Inverness Caledonian Thistle move out of the bottom two with three games to go after defeating Queen’s Park 1-0 at Hampden.

Cameron Harper’s free kick proved to be the difference and moved Inverness into eighth place, two points above Queen’s Park in ninth with three games to go. Caley Thistle’s destiny was in their own hands.

Inverness end up in the relegation play-off zone after only winning one of final three games.

After getting themselves out of the relegation zone, Inverness Caledonian Thistle ended up in the relegation play-off zone.

Despite a dominant performance against Raith Rovers, they found themselves falling to a 1-0 defeat at the Caledonian Stadium on Friday, April 19.

However, they remained outside the relegation play-off zone with two games remaining after Queen’s Park could only draw 0-0 with Dunfermline and remained one point behind Inverness.

In the penultimate game, Inverness could only draw 1-1 at Dunfermline, while Queen Park battered Arbroath 5-0 on April 27 to move into eighth, one point ahead of Inverness who dropped to ninth.

On the final day of the regular season, Queen’s Park secured safety with a 2-0 win over Airdrie, meaning Caley Thistle’s 3-1 win over Greenock Morton was meaningless and they would face the relegation play-offs.

Second best defence in the Championship, but the second worst goalscoring record.

It is unique that the team with the second best defensive record in the division, and with a positive goal difference, ends up being relegated. But Inverness only conceded 40 goals in their 36 matches in the regular season. Only champions Dundee United conceded less with 23.

Caley Thistle’s problem was at the other end trying to find goals. They only managed to find the net 41 times in 36 games. Only Arbroath found the net fewer times with 23 goals.

Play-off misery and relegation.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle saw off Montrose in the Championship semi final but made hard work of it in a 1-0 aggregate win.

After a 0-0 draw at Links Park in the first leg, Billy Mckay scored the only goal of the game in the second leg at the Caledonian Stadium to set up a Championship play-off final with Hamilton Academical.

In the play-off final, Inverness were left blown away as Kevin O’Hara’s 40 metre effort crashed against the crossbar before bouncing off goalkeeper’s Mark Ridgers back to give Hamilton the lead. Fergus Owens then doubled Hamilton’s advantage midway through the first half.

Aribim Pepple pulled one back for Inverness midway through the second half as the first leg finished 2-1.

However, Hamilton came flying out of the trap in the second leg,

Inverness were left stunned as Kevin O’Hara and Lewis Smith put Hamilton 2-0 up after 11 minutes.

Cammy Kerr pulled one back for Inverness just after the half hour. But O’Hara’s penalty just before half time increased the deficit to three and killed off the contest.

Alex Samuel scored in the eighth minute of stoppage time, but it was too late to save Inverness from relegation as Inverness lost 3-2 on the day and 5-3 on aggregate.

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