Rovers return to league action this week with a trip to Inverness after both teams exited the Betfred Cup in the group stage. The clubs will be familiar with each other following the 3-3 draw at Stark's Park last Tuesday but the tie in the Highlands could well end up being a very different affair. It is expected that several faces will return to the first team for the match compared to the previous meeting: Lars Lokotsch will be back after being cup tied and Dylan Tait will feature having missed the first meeting through suspension. On the injury front, both Kieran MacDonald and Kyle Benedictus returned to training this wee while the match may also see new signing Gozie Ugwu feature after a lay off.
Visits to Inverness have been frequent and with very little joy for Rovers in recent years. Last Tuesday's performance is arguably one of the closest games between the two sides in recent times. Mark Ridgers has already spoken out to local press about the aggressive style of Raith and how Caley have focused their training on trying to nullify any counter-attacking threats. They will be keen to keep an eye on Manny Duku who is on a tremendous run with seven goals in six games (including his brace against Caley).
Tomorrow's match is a huge test for Rovers and marks the start of a spell of tricky games. After this weekend, it will be the derby against Dunfermline before a trip to Somerset Park to face Ayr, followed by Hearts and Alloa. At the moment, there's a positive mood at the club with the optimism that they might be able to push on and try to secure a playoff place with their current squad. Caley represent a difficult test but history shows they'll be a team to beat if you want to get into the top 4 - they've only finished outside the playoff spots once since their relegation from the top flight in the 2016/17 season. Surely the unbeaten run has to end at some point: we've seen Scotland qualify for more international tournaments over the last 20 years than wins against Caley!
The cup match has already shown Caley have numerous attacking outlets who will be dangerous. Those watching the cup game saw how well the likes of Sutherland, Keatings and Kennedy all linked up. Kennedy in particular was singled out for praise by Raith TV after putting in a really strong performance. Similarly, John Robertson was quick to praise the loanee in the local press.
For Rovers they'll likely have a dilemma as to how they line up defensively: Kieran MacDonald would offer an outlet down the left wing but has struggled with injuries this season while Frankie Musonda has already shown he is comfortable deputising. Mendy and Musonda both put in no-nonsense performances against Cowdenbeath but with all due respect to the Blue Brazil they don't have the same fire power as an established side who regularly finish in the top half of the Championship.
One positive about tomorrow's match will be that it is the first time that fans for the home team have allowed to attend with a maximum attendance of 300. It's a heavily restricted number and fans will understandably have a very different experience compared to their normal Saturday afternoons but it's a step in the right direction.
As ever with league matches, we reached out to hear the view from the opposition fans. Andrew Sutherland was kind enough to take time out a busy schedule to answer a few questions about our opponents:
What was your first memory of watching Caley?
I was only 10 or 11 at the time Caley Thistle were admitted to the Scottish League and as a result I had only gone along to games fleetingly in the first couple of seasons in the old Division 3. The first game I can really remember was a 1 – 1 draw at Telford Street back in 1995 against rivals Ross County. I don’t recall the goals that were scored that day as the game was probably remembered better for the 3 red cards dished out in the space of a couple of minutes in the second half. Friendly derby indeed…!
Raith and Caley played last week in the Betfred cup in a 3-3 draw: do you expect there to be a lot of changes from your team for Saturday compared to the first meeting?
With the players we seem to have out injured at the minute it’ll be hard for Robbo to change things around too much! The team that started the other night is probably quite close to the side that will likely play this weekend. I’d expect Robbie Deas to come into central defence, maybe Roddy
MacGregor to slot into the three behind the striker, depending on the formation we go with, and we might see Nikolay Todorov start up front. Getting the likes of Aaron Doran and Shane Sutherland, who both played in the League Cup game, back into the side will be a real boost for us after they missed a lot of the early games in the season.
Shane Sutherland opted to sign for Caley for a second spell earlier this year after Raith tabled a bid in the January transfer window: how do you feel he has developed as a player since his first spell?
We were also rumoured to be in for him on a couple of previous occasions so it perhaps wasn’t too much of a surprise that he returned to ICT in the summer. He’s talked about having unfinished business at ICT having not felt that he fulfilled the early promise he might have shown. So far, we’ve only seen glimpses of him after he was injured against Hearts but since his return he’s looked like a useful attacking option for Robbo and seems to be more intelligent when timing his runs forward. However, most of his playing time seems to have been spent in the wide areas which is not where he picked up all those goals for Elgin and Peterhead. I’d like to see him get a run of games playing through the middle to see what he can do there.
Who do you feel is the most underrated player in the Inverness squad?
Mark Ridgers. He pulls off some incredible saves for us and at times he has kept us in games and won us valuable points we didn’t deserve through some of his heroics. Unfortunately for him it seems that because every so often he makes a comedy mistake non-Caley Thistle supporters consider him to be a joke of a keeper when in fact nothing can be further from the truth.
Caley have only finished outside the top 4 once since their relegation from the top flight: What are your expectations for this season?
Under Robbo’s leadership we have improved every season in the Championship since his return. Given the mess he inherited back in 2017 he’s really worked miracles all things considered and whilst he isn’t perfect there’s a reason why he often rates so highly amongst opposition supporters in this league. He can take players from the scrapheap or ones considered jokes and turn them into viable targets for Premiership sides (See Coll Donaldson, Joe Chalmers, Jordan White, Shaun Rooney…)
The last couple of years have seen the pre-season league favourites run away with the title leaving the rest of us to battle it out for the playoffs and that is likely to continue again this season as I expect Hearts to take the title. With Dunfermline and Ayr recruiting well over the summer and Raith’s impressive start to the season, I think we might slip back a place or two in the league. I am hopeful we should be good enough for the playoffs again and take 3rd or 4th spot.
Arguably the most successful player to leave Caley in recent years has been Ryan Christie: was there an element of pride seeing him do well on an international level?
Absolutely although I would be lying if I said that I have been a massive supporter of the national side. I just haven’t felt a real connection with the Scotland team for a number of years but maybe having a local Inverness lad in there could be the thing to change that. It should be said that I am very much in the minority with that attitude and there were lots of ICT fans I know who are ardent Scotland supporters as well who were beyond ecstatic at the events of the other night which was great to see. I’m still getting sent video clips of “I Can Boogie”!
How to watch:
Caley have opted to use the SPFL's match centre to supply their streaming to the game. This can be found here. The 'admission' costs £10 for the game and payments can be made via Paypal.
The system will make use of Pixelot but Caley seemingly moved away from the AI system (which brought headlines after tracking a bald linesman's head rather than the ball) to having it manually operated.
Raith TV won't have access to the match so there won't be any commentary or highlights until these have been provided by Caley.