January sales will bring dilemma for Caley Thistle

THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN

AFTER a quiet first week of the winter transfer window opening, there was no shortage of talking points for Caley Jags’ supporters in the past five days. First, there was the news that, on the back of another powerful performance in their 2-0 league win at Dundee on Saturday, full-back Shaun Rooney is wanted by the Taysiders, a main promotion rival.

Reaction from most ICT fans was ‘why would Rooney swap one Championship club for another?’. Dundee have a bit of money to spend, but it’s not eye-watering numbers that would make it an offer impossible to ignore. Surely?

The next day’s back pages had a double-whammy as not only had Premiership side St Johnstone joined the race for the energetic defender, a stand-out creator at Dens Park last week, but centre half Coll Donaldson is wanted by Ross County, a move by all accounts which is far down the road to being completed as I write this.

Hot on the heels of these stories was another involving an Inverness defender. This time there were many unconfirmed reports linking Jamie McCart with Partick Thistle.

The back-line trio are understood to be involved in discussions about pre-contracts as, with second-placed ICT needing a strong side to try and go up to the Premiership via the play-offs, selling now could be costly.

Manager John Robertson insisted this week that his cash-strapped club will sell no one on the cheap. Remember, Caley Thistle recently reported a near-£900k loss over the past year. That’s the cost of playing for another year outside of Scotland’s top table where income is derisory in comparison.

Donaldson and Rooney will no doubt feel, as strong servants for ICT, they have earned the right to step up to the Premiership and Ross County and St Johnstone know the value of playing at that level. Dundee can’t offer that, nor can Inverness right now.

However, if you’re County or St Johnstone, neither club a million miles away from being dragged into a relegation battle, you’ll want defensive reinforcements in now to boost your survival chances. They will probably test Caley Thistle’s resolve in the coming days.

Robbo will expect to lose one of his defenders this month and that’s why on Friday night they unveiled ex-Ross County, Dundee, Dundee United and Falkirk defender Lewis Toshney on an 18-month deal. 

The 27-year-old can play in right-back or centre half roles, so the capture from Falkirk doesn’t offer an immediate explanation as to which player is most likely to move sooner rather than later, right-back Rooney or central defender Donaldson.

I ran a poll on Thursday (ahead of McCart being added to the mix), asking whether Rooney or Donaldson would be the greater loss to ICT. Rooney racked up 59 per cent, although it got close at times during the 24-hour voting period.

Rivals circling like vultures is something ICT fans have been used to forever. It’s a sign you’ve a team of talented squad, and there will be more of that this month with players such as Tom Walsh, Aaron Doran, Charlie Trafford, Brad McKay and Jordan White all nearing the very end of their contracts.

Defenders won’t be the only wanted Inverness men in these January sales. But, as Robbo has shown with the Toshney transfer, he has the contacts and obvious appeal as a top boss to lure players north.

Yet with the balance books needing injected with funds it’s a tricky dilemma for Robertson and his board.

On the one hand, he needs his very best players to remain and get the results needed to follow champions-elect Dundee United into the top-flight in order to make real money again. But, the club can’t think about the consequences of another season in the Championship. If a player’s price tag is matched by a bidder, such as Ross County, there is no further discussion needed.

Caley Thistle are not alone in this, far from it. Every player has a value. But with money tight at the Caledonian Stadium it heightens the need for balances to be struck on and off the pitch and that’s not easy.

  • SATURDAY’S home Ladbrokes Championship game for ICT against Queen of the South was called off on Friday lunchtime – which was the right decision as the Dumfries side planned to travel that afternoon. 

Some of the Doonhamers’ fans were also expected to head to the Highlands before the weekend, but most cancelled as soon as the postponement was confirmed due to a heavy pitch with plenty more downpours to follow.

And the rain certainly tipped down overnight, so there is no way that heavy pitch at the Caledonian Stadium (particularly a corner near the North Stand) would have been cleared for take-off.

I’d imagine the clubs along with the SPFL will want a Saturday date for the rescheduled contest rather than asking Queens to make the four-hour-plus trip on a midweek.

The likely outcome is that it will be played on a Saturday after the Caley Jags exit the William Hill Scottish Cup. ICT are away to Alloa in the cup this coming weekend, while Queens are already out, having been stunned by Queen’s Park at Palmerston in round three.

Or, they could use an international weekend as there are dates set aside for matches as countries target Euro2020 qualification, or shape up for the competition itself.

Just two Championship fixtures beat the soaking weather at the weekend and a hat-trick from Lawrence Shankland eased Dundee United to a 4-1 win at Partick Thistle to move 17 points clear of ICT, while Morton edged past Dunfermline 3-2.

A final word from me this week goes to the few Queen of the South fans who, even allowing for their match being wiped out, travelled to Inverness anyway to join the Clach fans on their day trip to Buckie Thistle.

The Jags won 2-1, but I hope the two sets of visitors (from Clach and Dumfries) still enjoyed the trip.

  • Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show is on North Highland Radio every Friday from 7pm.

Listen via the station’s website, the Tune In app or your smart speakers. Follow Alive and Kicking on Facebook where you can contact Paul directly with any stories or views for airing.

North Highland Radio is a voluntary-run charity station based in Dingwall.

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