Caley Thistle boss Butcher says SPL season ‘best yet’

INVERNESS Caledonian Thistle manager Terry Butcher believes that the surprise make-up of the top six has added to the best Clydesdale Bank Premier League season yet.

St Johnstone and Ross County this week joined Celtic, Motherwell and Inverness in securing their top-half status, with Kilmarnock in the driving seat to follow as they prepare for the visit of bottom club Dundee in the final weekend before the split.

St Johnstone’s 1-1 draw with Dundee United on Monday night booked their place as well as helping last season’s Irn-Bru First Division champions County over the line, and Butcher was full of praise for the Perth club’s achievements ahead of their visit to the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium this evening.

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“I must say congratulations to them and Ross County as well,” Butcher said. “Ross County’s achievement is just magnificent, it really is, and St Johnstone for the second successive year are in the top six.

“That’s three clubs, including ourselves, with really small budgets and really small crowds. It says how well all three clubs have been run and obviously led, but it says a lot about the quality of the players as well.”

Motherwell’s fourth consecutive season in the top six means their qualification has not been viewed as a surprise but the Lanarkshire club effectively join the other clubs in defying the odds given that several clubs currently in the bottom half – namely Aberdeen, Hibernian and Hearts – have bigger budgets.

Eighth-placed Dundee United were many people’s tips for second spot before the start of a season that many wrote off following the collapse of Rangers and their subsequent re-emergence in the bottom tier of Scottish football.

And Butcher, whose side have scored 70 goals in all competitions so far this season, believes the shift in power has been a huge positive for the game. The former England captain said: “You look at the clubs that will miss out and say ‘wow’. They have miles bigger budgets, miles bigger income, bigger crowds, bigger history, but they are not there.

“We deserve to be there – Ross County, St Johnstone, all three clubs – because of the football we have played, the points we have accrued, the spirit of the players, there are lots of plusses.

“It shows you the power and dimension of Scottish football has changed. There have been a good number of good young players that have come through this season in the SPL, some quality football, quality goals, and quality matches. It has definitely improved.

“One or two people have knocked Scottish football but if you are involved in it you would say this season has been the best.”

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St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas repaid Butcher’s compliments and last night insisted that the Inverness manager should win the Manager of the Year award for doing a “miraculous” job at Caley Thistle.

“I think Inverness have been brilliant this year, I really do. For me, big Terry is Manager of the Year,” said Lomas ahead of tonight’s trip north.

“What he has done there is nothing short of miraculous. Inverness is a tough place to go to so we have to re-focus again for this game.”

Asked for his thoughts on Friday night football, Lomas says he believes the fixture provides another opportunity for his own players to impress, having now secured their place in the top half of the table this season.

He said: “It’s good that they are trying new things. Whether it brings in a bigger crowd or not, I don’t know.

“There’s a bit of focus, it’s live on television, and it’s a good platform for some of the lads to go and play and show what they can do.”

Saints claimed a last-gasp 1-1 draw with Dundee United on Monday to clinch a top-six spot for the second season in a row.

Lomas now has his sights set on another crack at European football, after facing Turkish outfit Eskisehirspor at the start of this campaign, but acknowledges the task his side face.

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He said: “That’s the ambition but there are a lot of teams there who also want to get it.

“You would have to say that Motherwell and Inverness are in the driving seat. The European place is there to play for, so to get on a good run at this crucial stage will be invaluable.”

Comparing the achievements of his players so far this season to last term, Lomas added: “We had a massive turnaround of players in the summer.

“The lads have come in, along with the lads who have already been here for a few years, and bought into what St Johnstone is all about – an honesty, a hard-working ethos, a togetherness and a team ethic.

“We haven’t got a goalscorer on double figures but we have got goals all around the team so it’s very much based on a team ethic, rather than an individual.”