IF PRE-SEASON is a notorious gauge of readiness for the fray, it can at least generate good portents and a well of optimism for expectant supporters.
The 132 Caley Thistle fans who ventured to south-east London amid a 2,801 crowd at The Valley yesterday would certainly have left pumped with belief.
For manager Terry Butcher, it was pretty much the perfect send-off to a productive pre-season spent assimilating new faces and racking up 36 goals in nine matches.
James Vincent, a dynamic midfielder brought in from Kidderminster Harriers, was a particular stand-out for his mobility and use of the ball.
The cohesion and understanding apparent pointed to a team strides ahead in preparation compared to last season’s slow-to-gel group.
Having lost the talismanic Andrew Shinnie and the brute presence of Owain Tudur Jones this summer, Butcher seems to have again successfully panned the depths of the English game.
“It was a good performance once we got used to Charlton’s system,” a satisfied Butcher said.
“I thought the shape was good, the work-rate excellent in very hot conditions. When we passed, we passed it quite well.
“The understanding is good. The back four have played together a lot this pre-season and it shows.
“They did a great job, too. In midfield, Ross Draper and Liam Polworth were strong in the absence of Richie Foran who had a wee tweak so didn’t travel.”
Central defender Josh Meekings, with a striker’s finish, was the unlikely match-winning hero late in the afternoon.
The match doubled as testimonial for Charlton’s long-serving groundsman Colin Powell, an ex-Valley winger of the 1970s.
For Caley Thistle, though, it was all about the serious business of final preparations for the Premiership opener at home to St Mirren.
Charlton, too, were just seven days from a English Championship opener away to Bournemouth.
Under ex-England cap Chris Powell, the Addicks had grasped ninth spot last season, just a year after storming to the League One title with 101 points.
That shape and understanding evident in the visitors’ ranks helped stem the early tide from Charlton.
After that initial rearguard operation, away midfielder Ross Draper was unlucky to rattle the post with a fierce 20-yard swipe of the right boot and then stung the glove of keeper Ben Haven with another powerful dig soon after.
Charlton’s best move of the first half came just before the half hour.
Callum Harriott’s break and measured chip into the box found Charlton’s French cult hero Yann Kermorgant out-leaping the away defence to test Dean Brill with a fierce header.
Moments later, though, Aaron Doran drew another good save from Hamer with a vicious strike.
It had been hot and muggy in south-east London but a rain shower and breeze brought relief after the break.
While the tempo rose and there was good competitive edge, though, both defences remained firmly on top until deep in the second half. The breakthrough finally came 11 minutes from time and from an unlikely source.
Meekings started the move just outside his own box and just kept going, before spreading an over-hit pass wide right.
It was salvaged by Aaron Doran who swept the ball back in for Meekings to expertly side-foot low into the corner of the net from 12 yards.
Kermorgant whistled one just over the bar as the Londoners tried to battle back but Inverness remained resolute.