THERE was a rather hasty dismissal of Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s prospects early last season in the midst of a stuttering, unconvincing start.
It is a mistake, 12 months on, few are likely to repeat.
The waifs and strays assembled from English football’s lower reaches were initially the subject of derision among some fans and pundits as the search for a first victory stretched to late September.
It was only when Dundee United were ruthlessly dispatched in a sparkling 4-0 display at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium that statistics began to be placed in perspective.
Although Terry Butcher’s side had failed to record a victory in seven opening league games, they had only lost twice, to Celtic and eventual runners-up Motherwell.
Taken alongside cup victories, the subsequent run of powerful performances and victories made mockery of doom-laden predictions.
Individuals such as ex-Newport County skipper Gary Warren and former Macclesfield midfielder Ross Draper established themselves as prize assets rather than rash signings.
Above all, a fluent, captivating attacking style emerged – and the previous year’s striking flop, Billy McKay, simply ignited. Still, Caley Thistle can never be a club that rests on their laurels, even after a record fourth-place finish.
Among a raft of summer departures, the creativity of Andrew Shinnie was pilfered by Birmingham City and the brute muscle of Owain Tudur Jones by Hibernian. Goalkeeper Antonio Reguero was another significant loss to Kilmarnock.
Butcher, again, has had to rebuild from within a slightly enhanced, but still meagre budget. And again, he has looked to remote corners of the British game. This year the little-known names include the likes of Marley Watkins, Curtis Allen, Danny Williams, James Vincent, Carl Tremarco and Dean Brill. Inverness fans, though, have learned to trust in the talent-spotting.
The process might seem like a minefield, but the Englishman described this summer’s endeavours as pleasingly smooth.
“It has been a whole lot easier and more straightforward than last year,” Butcher stressed.
“The targets were identified much earlier and, barring a couple of minor hiccups, we had the whole squad assembled for day one in pre-season.
“That doesn’t just help in terms of them getting to know each other, it helps in the core work of strength and conditioning.
“The stamina and energy about this group of players is quite something.
“With individuals like James Vincent, Ben Greenhalgh and Danny Williams, we have a whole new level of dynamism about the team.
“I do think we will be different in style. We will certainly be quick and pacy and we have a lot of players with a very strong work ethic.”
The aim for Butcher is to again edge the club forwards on last season, with great potential dividends if they avoid such a miserable early set of results
“Everyone has fitted in very well despite the numbers and getting to know each other and how we work forges a real group bond,” he stressed.
“Although the recruitment paid off handsomely for us last season with our record finish in the SPL, it took a bit of time to get going. We’re out to avoid that this time around and get our first win earlier, then build from there.”