INVERNESS CALEDONIAN THISTLE have reached such an altitude in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League table that there have been signs they are becoming a little delirious.
A win over Celtic, which put them within touching distance of the league summit, left each member of the squad comparing themselves to a breed of dog, while the three points gained away to Aberdeen that took the Highland side joint top with Celtic moved Terry Butcher to arrive at training with an array of cakes for his players.
The Inverness manager is an ebullient character and such incidents were designed to foster the sense of contentment at his club, as well as ensuring his players remain grounded as they continue to nurture success in the league. The challenge is now to attempt to translate that form – Inverness have lost just once in 14 matches – into the Scottish Cup. Given they will come up against Highland rivals Ross County in the fourth round today, they are unlikely to need the promise of more sugary treats offer them incentive, though.
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Wins over Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen have all served as milestones of their success but it is the results against County that supporters will use to measure their campaign. Inverness have stolen the early momentum after celebrating a comfortable 3-1 home win over their Dingwall neighbours in the first instalment of the Highland derby this season, but such results have proven somewhat sparse when they have headed north in recent years.
When the teams last met in Dingwall, when both sides were in the first division during the 2009/10 campaign, County were unbeaten in their two home games. It is a statistic which will be used by some to temper expectation of another comfortable win for Inverness, although Butcher was not overtly concerned.
"There is a fantastic atmosphere. Ross County will have more fans there than us and they will be noisy," said the Inverness manager, who is still without Nick Ross, Simon King and Chris Hogg. "But our players have been to big grounds, like Tynecastle in particular, which is the same as Victoria Park with the pitch close to the fans. They have gone to grounds they did not know about or have not played at and done well this season. It is a great occasion for us to enjoy.
"We are playing a Highland derby, the first ever in the Scottish Cup. We all know how big the Highland derbies are. There is no chance of the players not being up for it. What we have done in the past week has been forgotten about. All the focus is on doing well in Dingwall. There are not that many survivors here from the 2009-2010 season that are here, only Ryan Esson and Richie Foran. We know what it is going to be like and I will be telling the players it is a great ground to go to."
His three years spent in Inverness has inured Foran to the idea that football in the Highlands can often seem to be belittled by some in the central belt and he has no desire to see his side to stumble after stepping into the spotlight in recent weeks. There is a natural confidence to the Irishman and he reacted sternly to "mind games" from the County squad this week, but he has been emboldened after enjoying wins at Celtic Park and Pittodrie in successive outings.
"It has been a great week. If we can get another result against Ross County it would be up there with the best in the club's history," said the Inverness forward. "We have managed to create a bit of history and break a few records and we want to keep it going. The atmosphere is going to be electric but it's a game which will suit Inverness. We have already gone to Ibrox, Parkhead and Pittodrie so we will relish this one."
As ever in derbies, that feeling is mutual. County have enjoyed relative success this season themselves and have not looked out of place during their first venture in the top flight. A derby win in the Scottish Cup today would take pride of place alongside any result they can take this term and Derek Adams is confident that he has the players in his squad to deliver, particularly those who used to play at Inverness.
"It is difficult always going back to play your old club but I'm sure they will handle that exceptionally well," said the County manager of former Inverness contingent Mark Brown, Michael Fraser, Ross Tokely, Grant Munro, Iain Vigurs and Russell Duncan. "They have got over that experience now and played against Inverness and we move on. It probably does mean a wee bit more to them than others, of course. It is a club they have played with in the past and they want to do well against. If you play against any of your old clubs, you want to beat them and show what they have been missing."