THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN
CLACH climbed from 16th to 14th in the Highland League on Saturday and, apart from for the hardy souls in the cold at Grant Street, that will barely have been noticed in Inverness. However, their gutsy 2-1 victory over Strathspey Thistle brought them to within two points of their opponents rather than leaving them eight adrift of the Jags.
Over league and cups, these sides have now met four times already this season, and it’s two wins apiece.
The bigger picture is that the Highland capital needs strong representation and a competitive side in the Highland League and Clach have been miles short of that since winning the title and Highland League Cup in 2003/04, the same season Caley Thistle first clinched promotion into the SPL.
The Merkinchers have diced with danger off the field with its very existence on the brink during the darkest days of administration a decade ago.
Iain Polworth spent 10 years as the club’s manager until stepping down 14 months ago and his assistant Brian MacLeod took over the reigns.
Not long into the current campaign, the hard-grafting gaffer bowed out for personal reasons and the board, led by chairman Alex Chisholm, took its time before handing the top job to Sandy McLeod, who captained the side to their glorious double 15 years ago.
Most recently, McLeod had been working within the youth coaching set-up at Scottish Premiership side Ross County, but the call from Chisholm to guide his beloved Lilywhites back to better days was too tempting to ignore.
Just a few weeks ago, it was announced that former Ross County and Northern Ireland international defender Sean Webb was the club’s new assistant boss, with playing duties to continue to allow him to have a fresh outlook on the game.
Until Saturday’s win over Strathspey, only perennial troubled Fort William sat below Clach in the table and they needed a lift in more ways than one.
A midweek 3-0 defeat at an albeit impressive Forres Mechanics was their latest punch in the guts, so a win which takes them to within one victory of rising further is great news.
The Inverness team still need to string several wins together in order to catch the likes of Huntly, Deveronvale and Wick, but a horrific two wins from 16 fixtures has put them in these choppy waters.
In fact, that’s half of their league season over, so in many ways the recruitment of Webb as the manager’s assistant is very much made for the longer term.
That’s why I was delighted for McLeod that Chisholm and the directors found enough necessary dough to bring in three new players during the week.
Goalkeeper Ryan Hunter was captured from North Caledonian League club Inverness Athletic, while forwards Scott Graham in his second spell and John Cameron have come in to add much needed firepower up top.
And it was a welcome Grant Street return for Graham as he hit the clincher over Strathspey after Martin Callum’s opener was cancelled out by Thistle.
Clach head along the A96 to mid-table Keith this weekend and will no doubt have a spring in their steps.
Freelance photographer Donald Cameron, who kindly supplied this image, sees plenty of Clach at all levels and he reckons, as the club motto suggests, “the future’s bright” after watching the under-20s last week in Elgin.
The Merkinchers can’t dig deep to attract big names like Aberdeenshire big-hitters can, but adding a trio such as Hunter, Graham and Cameron might well make them much more effective in games which hang in the balance as was the case at the weekend.
Vital win puts Caley Jags back on track
CALEY Thistle were not on Scottish Cup duty on Saturday – but delivered a vital 1-0 victory over Dundee in the Scottish Championship.
Although they remain 10 points behind leaders Dundee United, the win which came courtesy of a fine Aaron Doran strike, edged them above their beaten visitors into third spot and to within one point of Ayr, albeit having played one match more than the Honest Men.
Just a week after a boring goalless draw against Clyde in the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup, which ended in a penalty shoot-out triumph and semi-final against Rangers Colts on February 16, some fans took to social media lacking enthusiasm about heading to the Caledonian Stadium.
However, the importance of the result was not lost on anyone there and, although Dundee came close a number of times to equalising, it was crucial that ICT responded to their successive 3-0 spankings in the Championship by Dundee United and Arbroath.
Had Arbroath taken anything at Morton last week, Caley Thistle, whose squad and management have shaken off illness which sidelined many including boss John Robertson against Clyde, would have slipped out of the top four.
The feisty tussle against Dundee puts them back in the promotion picture and they’ll travel to Alloa on Saturday eager to close in on Ayr and that second spot.
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