Inverness CT: John Hughes lighting up the Highlands

John Hughes has Inverness back in the top six after a sticky start.
John Hughes has Inverness back in the top six after a sticky start.

November 2013 marked a significant crossroads in the journey of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, since the club's inception in 1994.

A progressive rise through the ranks seemed to have peaked under Terry Butcher.

Butcher's ill-fated decision to take Hibernian's managerial position left the Inverness CT board searching for boss number seven in the club's short history.

Last December, John Hughes was announced as successor. The decision surprised some, with many believing Paul Hartley was a more dynamic, up-and-coming candidate.

An unbeaten home record has played a major part in a season which has seen the Highlanders in and around top spot in the Scottish Premiership since August.

That without influential captain Richie Foran, who has sat on the sidelines recovering from injury.

Inverness captain Richie Foran on manager John Hughes
"At the start players weren't sure themselves. Players are afraid to change. Some of the players were maybe thinking they weren't good enough to play his way."

"I think there were quite a few people not sure about him when he first got the job," Foran told BBC Scotland.

"I'm sure he's changed their minds. He always had that belief from the start. He's always said on the training ground, 'believe me this style of football will work'.

"At the start players weren't sure themselves. Players are afraid to change. Some of the players were maybe thinking they weren't good enough to play his way.

"He kept telling us. Eventually you start believing in yourselves.

"He loves his coaching. He'd have us on the training park 24/7 if he could. That's his real passion."

League form dipped when Hughes first arrived in the Highlands, however reaching the League Cup final was a remarkable achievement.

Defeat in the harshest manner possible - a penalty shoot-out against Aberdeen - was as close as Inverness have come to landing one of Scottish football's biggest prizes.

To many, that achievement marked a peak. Tantalisingly close, before tumbling back down to where you came from and perhaps belong. Remarkably, it hasn't turned out that way.

Hughes' managerial career to date is an interesting one. He led Falkirk into the Scottish Premier League in 2005 and established them there over the next four years.

A Europa League qualifying spot earned in his first season in charge at Hibernian.

The axe fell after a poor start to the following term but he returned with Livingston in 2012, before joining Hartlepool that same year.

Inverness have bounced back from the disappointment of losing their first major final.
Inverness have bounced back from the disappointment of losing their first major final.

Hughes could not prevent relegation to English football's bottom tier and his contract was terminated in the summer of 2013.

"I look at my career and the times you get the sack," said Hughes. "The four, five, six months out when you recharge your batteries and reflect and look at your mistakes. It makes you a better manager."

Hughes is renowned as an engaging, effervescent character but the evidence suggests that it's his dedication, belief and guidance that's inspiring his squad. His approach appears to be both thoughtful and effective.

"Training hard, but not running about until you drop. It's more educational, teaching them the game," says the Inverness manager.

"Making sure everyone knows the game plan tactically. How we can get an advantage. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition?

"It's about having the intellect to take it on board then go and execute it.

Inverness manager John Hughes
"We're stimulating the players on the training pitch and when you've got boys that are loving it, it transmits itself onto the pitch."

"Trust me, a lot of players put the strip on and it just goes. They just run about, try hard and you say well done. You need to be cleverer than that. You need to be tactically switched on.

"I think we can get better. I think we can execute it better."

So when will the bubble burst and the inevitable dip in form arrive? This run can't continue, surely?

Hughes replies: "Is it because we might want to let it slip because we're only Inverness? We don't get great numbers and all that stuff? No chance, absolutely no chance.

"I'm still asking them to give everything they've got with quality and an educational mind-set to take on board because I want to make them better. There are no excuses.

"We make sure that all our training is game related. Everything is with the ball. Get on it, pass it, move it. The boys are loving it.

"We're stimulating them on the training pitch and when you've got boys that are loving it, it transmits itself onto the pitch."

Preparation is one thing; add in desire and you are on to something.

It's clear that Inverness Caledonian Thistle and John Hughes are near the height of their powers and are determined to drive on.

Top Stories