JOHN HUGHES, the Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager, is confident that Motherwell are strong enough to continue to confound the doubters and enjoy relative success in the top flight this season.

Shaun Hutchinson and Henri Anier were among the most high-profile players to depart Fir Park this summer, leaving some observers to anticipate a trying campaign for Lanarkshire side.

Hughes is not one of them, though. Instead the 49-year-old has acknowledged the key players still in the Fir Park squad, individuals who the Inverness manager is aware could make life difficult for his side when they make the trip to Lanarkshire this afternoon.

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"Stuart McCall has done a wonderful job down there, I've a lot of admiration for him," said Hughes, who dismissed the latest speculation linking Billy McKay with a move away from the Highland club, this time to Bundesliga 2 club FSV Frankfurt.

"You look through the spine of his team; you have the ex-Celtic captain, big 'Mick' [Stephen] McManus. He just holds that team together. Up top, they have John Sutton and they've just re-signed the boy Henrik Ojamaa, who'll play [today]. Then in midfield you have [Keith] Lasley.

"On top of that, [McCall] has been brave and given one or two youngsters a chance - [Lee] Erwin, [Stuart] Carswell and others. Lionel Ainsworth scored against us last time and he can't even get in the team.

"No-one wants to lose players as Motherwell have, but they're still a very good side. They are similar to us. They have that strong spine and they are giving youngsters a chance."

Hughes' admiration is a product of bitter experience too, since Inverness have often struggled in matches away in Lanarkshire. He is wary of that form, regardless of an encouraging start to the season during which his side have registered a win away to Hamilton Academical and a home draw with Dundee.

"Every time you go down there it is difficult," said Hughes, who is without Richie Foran and Danny Devine today, while James Vincent is a doubt with a groin strain. "They've taken our scalp a few times but they've always been good games."