Match preview: Inverness Caledonian Thistle out to repeat last season's successes in Championship opener against Dunfermline Athletic
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Inverness Caledonian Thistle begin their Championship season on the road against Dunfermline Athletic this afternoon.
It has been seven months since Caley Thistle were last in league action, but have had a handful of matches in the Betfred Cup and pre-season friendlies going into today's clash.
So far performances have been encouraging, but they will need to find a cutting edge in front of goal if manager John Robertson is finally to realise his ambition of taking the club back into the Premiership.
Three wins against Dunfermline last season may give ICT confidence, but after a busy summer of investment at East End Park they will pose a very different challenge this time around.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle: Miles Storey misses out for Caley Thistle after picking up a hamstring injury against Cowdenbeath in the Betfred Cup on Tuesday, an issue that will keep him out of action for the next few weeks.
Aaron Doran and David Carson are not yet ready to return from injury, while on-loan Rangers winger Kai Kennedy will not link up with his new teammates until next week as he is in isolation after international duty with the Scotland Under-19s squad.
Robertson had hoped that Shane Sutherland would shake off a hamstring issue of his own in time to face Dunfermline, but a late decision will be made on the striker.
Danny Devine, Kevin McHattie and James Vincent all came through Tuesday's penalties triumph in the cup unscathed, so should stay in the squad having gotten minutes under their belts.
Dunfermline: Summer arrival Steven Whittaker will have to wait for his league debut at East End Park as he is suspended having been sent off for Hibernian at Aberdeen in the last match before lockdown.
Stevie Crawford has decisions to make on Aaron Comrie and Lewis Martin, who have both missed chunks of pre-season and the Betfred Cup group stage but were back in training ahead of today's match.
Lewis Mayo and Kerr McInroy come back into the fold to boost Crawford's options after spending time with the Scotland Under-21s squad.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle: drew 0–0 at home against Cowdenbeath (won 4–2 on penalties), lost 1–0 away at Hearts, drew 1–1 at home against Elgin City, won 2–0 away at Clachnacuddin, won 7–0 away at Nairn County.
Dunfermline: won 3–0 away at Kilmarnock, won 2–0 at home against Falkirk, won 1–0 away at Dumbarton, drew 0–0 away at Stirling Albion, won 1–0 away at East Fife.
Head-to-head (all competitions)
Inverness Caledonian Thistle 17
Last five meetings
Dunfermline 1–2 Inverness Caledonian Thistle – Championship, Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2–0 Dunfermline – Championship, Saturday, December 21, 2019
Dunfermline 0–1 Inverness Caledonian Thistle – Championship, Saturday, September 14, 2019
Inverness Caledonian Thistle 1–0 Dunfermline – Championship, Saturday, May 4, 2019
Dunfermline 1–0 Inverness Caledonian Thistle – Championship, Saturday, February 16, 2019
Ones to watch
Inverness Caledonian Thistle: James Keatings – with Miles Storey missing out through injury and Shane Sutherland also a doubt, Keatings will come to the fore as ICT's main creative force.
He has a quality on the ball that few other players in the side and he can be a match-winner on his day, and with matches between Inverness and Dunfermline being close more often than not in recent seasons it may just take a moment of genius to make the difference.
Keatings' experience should give him a nous that his younger teammates going forward may not have developed yet, and his delivery from set-pieces gives him another outlet to impact the game.
Dunfermline: Kevin O'Hara – the former Alloa man has a big task on his hands if he is to replace Kevin Nisbet at East End Park, but 14 goals for the Wasps last season will give everyone involved faith that he can kick on to the next level.
O'Hara is the same age Nisbet was when signing for Dunfermline, so Crawford will be hoping for a similar impact from O'Hara to ensure that Nisbet's 23 goals are not missed as they chase promotion.
Getting off the mark on his debut against Dumbarton in the club's opening Betfred Cup group match, O'Hara's confidence will be high and he will want to make his mark in the league at the first possible opportunity.
ICT manager John Robertson's pre-match thoughts
"They've got good players, there's absolutely no doubt about that.
"Dunfermline and Stevie Crawford have spent wisely, they've used the little bit of extra funding that they got from the sale of Kevin Nisbet to bring in good, experienced players at this level.
"We feel we've got good players as well – we've got a few out still, our injury list hasn't cleared up too much – but they are going to be up there.
“Whatever budget I have, I’ve got to get the team as competitive as possible.
“That’s the aim again this year. We’re going to do our very best to win as many games as we can and be as high up the table as we can, regardless of what our opposition does or doesn’t have.”