Shane Sutherland says he has unfinished business at Caley Thistle
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Shane Sutherland is looking forward to the challenge of returning to Inverness Caledonian Thistle next season.
The 29-year-old striker from Caithness had scored 26 goals for Elgin City before the campaign was brought to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic, prompting Inverness manager John Robertson to seal a pre-contract in January.
Sutherland is no stranger to the Highland capital, having plied his trade at the Caledonian Stadium a decade ago, making 86 appearances in all competitions before leaving in 2013.
He believes he is a different player now than in his first spell, far more ready to play for Caley Thistle at Championship level. He says it was an easy decision for him to sign when Robertson came calling.
“I’ve got a little bit of unfinished business at Inverness – I never produced as much as I could have when I was there the first time,” Sutherland said. “I’m a lot more experienced in games and age now.
“I think I’m a better player than I was back then, so hopefully I can go there and do really well for myself. I know it’s going to be hard work but I’ll get my head down and get on with it."
Sutherland was left with a familiar feeling when his goal-laden season at Elgin was brought to a premature end.
He had broken his own City club record by notching those 26 goals as the Black-and-Whites sought a first promotion in 20 years in the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL). With eight league fixtures and potential play-offs still to go, Sutherland was well on course to become the first Elgin player to hit the net 30 times in a single SPFL campaign.
I know it’s going to be hard work but I’ll get my head down and get on with it.
He had been in a similar position three years earlier when his 24-goal haul was instrumental in propelling the Borough Briggs side high up the League 2 rankings, before injury struck.
Sutherland suffered an anterior cruciate ligament tear, ending his season and having the same effect on Elgin's, as they failed to win another game and fell short of the play-offs.
"To score as many goals as I had in both seasons, personally Lady Luck hasn't been on my side," he said.
"I scored 26 this season before it got cut short like it did. The same happened the year I got injured. I think I look back on both of those seasons and I definitely would have managed 30 goals if I had carried on.
"It’s disappointing, but health is more important than football at this time so we’ve just got to get on with it."
Having signed his full-time pre-contract with Caley Thistle earlier this year, Sutherland was determined to finish things off at Borough Briggs in style by helping shoot them through the play-offs into League 2 next term.
All that was ended in March by the spread of Covid-19, halting football and every other sport.
Sutherland fully understands why the season couldn't come to a natural conclusion, yet can't help contemplating what might have been.
The Wick-born player was just two goals shy of a goal century for City over four spells with the club.
With the form he was in, Sutherland would almost certainly have smashed through the 100 barrier and become only the second player after fellow Caithnessian Craig Gunn – now at Wick Academy – to achieve that milestone.
"It’s disappointing for both me personally and as a team as well," Sutherland said. "I think a lot of the players were starting to hit good form.
"With it coming into the tail end of the season we fancied our chances in the play-offs if we could make it.
"It’s just circumstances outwith our control and this time it’s life, it’s not just football that’s affected. It’s everyday life and football is a very minimal part of it."
Sutherland played for Halkirk in the Caithness summer league before joining Wick Academy as a teenager. He scored nine goals in 24 appearances for the Scorries in 2006/07 before embarking on his first spell at Caley Thistle.
A highlight of his time at Caledonian Stadium was hitting the decisive goal in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Celtic in the SPL in May 2011.