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Inverness CT 0 Dundee United 5: Ciftci the hero, grabbing tie by the throat to squeeze out hapless hosts

AS a dress rehearsal for a cup final this would attract the sort of reviews for Inverness Caledonian Thistle normally reserved for Abe Lincoln's last visit to a theatre.

Dundee United's stand-out performer Nadir Ciftci celebrates after scoring his second goal of the game at Caledonian Stadium yesterday. Picture: SNS
Dundee United's stand-out performer Nadir Ciftci celebrates after scoring his second goal of the game at Caledonian Stadium yesterday. Picture: SNS

As an intimation of the potential of Dundee United in cup competition it was compelling and convincing.

After a mixture of farce, panto and faux villainy, Inverness go into the League Cup final on the back of another thumping to complement the 5-0 defeat at Celtic Park. Their sense of misery would not have been alleviated by the dismissal of two players, but both will be available for a final against Aberdeen at Celtic Park on Sunday that the Inverness support now could be forgiven for viewing with some misgivings.

Dundee United, in contrast, can look forward to a promising end to the season after a performance of unyielding dominance that was marked by a glut of fine performances, most notably that of Nadir Ciftci who was sent off in the League Cup quarter-final defeat in Inverness in October but who returned to take Inverness by the throat and shake the Scottish Cup life out of them.

The 22-year-old Turk scored two goals and played a role in the build-up to a beautiful fifth goal before being replaced in the second half as Dundee United gambolled on the sand of Tulloch Stadium. In truth, such was the ease of their victory that they could have taken out their towels and lay on them underneath a watery Highland sun.

Inverness, though, must be dreadfully dispirited. The concession of five goals was compounded by the dismissal of Greg Tansey for a reckless challenge and Marley Watkins for a two-footed tackle, both on Paul Paton and both in the second half.

The game was over as a contest long before Willie Collum showed these red cards. United, vibrant and committed, had already issued dismissal notices in the form of three first-half goals. The scoring of a further two in the second period almost amounted to cruel and unnecessary punishment.

Ciftci's early interventions provided both the theatrical entrance and a touch of farce. Returning after his celebrated performance of seeming to shake assistant refereee Gavin Harris warmly by the throat in the League Cup quarter-final, Ciftci scored twice in front of the same official to render this tie distinctly uncompetitive after 30 minutes.

First he collected John Rankin's long ball forward and nodded past the on-rushing Dean Brill before finishing neatly. The striker then profited from an episode of farce. Sean Dillon's hoofed clearance was passed back to Brill by Josh Meekings and the goalkeeper promptly thrashed the ball against the legs of the defender, allowing Ciftci to tap in.

The third goal came within eight minutes of the second. Gavin Gunning was fouled by Graeme Shinnie, the hosts' best player on the day, and the defender rose to thrash the ball past Brill from the spot.

Punishment in the second half was limited to the concession of two goals. First, the excellent Stuart Armstrong found the buccaneering Gary Mackay-Steven on the break and the winger finished emphatically. Then Ciftci drove forward and slipped the ball wide to Keith Watson whose powerful cross was headed in by Armstrong.

The dismissals reduced Inverness to nine but they had long been a diminished force in the face of a United side that contained the vim and vigour of Andrew Robertson, the pace and power of Ciftci, the guile and graft of Mackay-Steven and the influence and discipline of Paton and Rankin who allow others to venture forward with impunity.

Gunning and Sean Dillon, almost incidentally, were resilient in defence and the home side had limited opportunities. McKay should have placed a first-half header on target and Shinnie had two shots saved by Radislaw Cierzniak.

"We know if we do what we are good at we are unstoppable," said Ciftci later with an unanswerable simplicity. "What happens in the past is gone and we have to think about today," he added of his past indirection in Inverness.

He can with reason contemplate a thrilling end to the season and beyond. "There is a load more to come from this team," he said.

Jackie McNamara, his manager, agreed, adding that his striker was "unplayable". McNamara admitted his side had prepared for a battle and had learned their lesson from the past.

The education for John Hughes, the Inverness manager, was of the most painful variety. He now must find a way to lift his team to play Hibernian on Wednesday in a league match that has the undoubted benefit of being the first half of the bans for Tansey and Watkins that will be completed in the first Scottish Cup tie of next season. Both will be available to play in the League Cup final on Sunday.

"We need the fire in the belly to put it right and we need to put it right in the next game," said Hughes. "But we will come bouncing back."

His words were strong. His team now needs to frank them with action if the drama of their League Cup run is not to have the most unhappy of endings.

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