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Inverness CT 0 Hibernian 0: Cup final countdown begins as Highlanders emerge unscathed

There had been talk of some among this Inverness Caledonian Thistle side having their heads turned by the Scottish League Cup final as they set out on league duty last night.

Richie Foran, left, will be relieved only to have been booked for a clumsy tackle last night. Picture: SNS
Richie Foran, left, will be relieved only to have been booked for a clumsy tackle last night. Picture: SNS

Those who had not might have been tempted to look away anyway, a draw at home to Hibernian lacking in both goals and cause for cheer.

It did at least allow the Highland side to plug the holes and steady the ship ahead of the biggest game in the club's history. Inverness also succeeded in stemming a tide of 10 goals lost during their last two outings.

The match was watched grimly by a familiar face too. Terry Butcher made his first official return to the Caledonian Stadium since joining Hibs in November, with his former side failing to mark the occasion by collecting the victory they needed for a top-six finish in the SPFL Premiership for the second straight year.

A point was sufficient, however, to move the Highland side above Dundee United and into fourth place in the league table - Inverness able to perhaps thumb their noses at the Tannadice side which romped to a 5-0 win in the Highlands in a Scottish Cup tie on Sunday. It was hard to avoid the conclusion that cup competition was a prominent theme for the home side last night.

"I'm glad that's out of the way," said John Hughes, the Inverness manager. "It was definitely advantage Aberdeen, that's for sure. If they get a couple of knocks on Saturday they have time to recover but if we got knocks tonight we could be struggling [for the cup final]. Thankfully we came through unscathed."

The outcome was nothing but salutary in the circumstances for Hughes' side four days ahead of the final. Derek McInnes, manager of the Aberdeen side which will contest the cup final with Inverness on Sunday, was in attendance and was no doubt keen to monitor the changes made to the home side ahead of the final. Hughes' team selection, given the magnitude of the match ahead, was always going to be intriguing.

Marley Watkins and Greg Tansey, who were both sent off against Dundee United, were missing from the starting XI. Graeme Shinnie and James Vincent, both likely to start the cup final, also dropped to the bench, while right-back David Raven was rested. In their place came Nick Ross, Danny Devine, Carl Tremarco, Liam Polworth and Danny Williams.

The presence of Butcher would have drawn attention in normal circumstances but both sides were more involved in their own concerns. Hibs are in need of some semblance of success having taken just one win from their previous nine games. They had not beaten the hosts, home or away, in nearly two years.

Nobody knew that better than Butcher and he would ensure that his Hibs side were alert to Inverness' early attacking intent. In fact, the Edinburgh side were first to threaten as Danny Haynes beat a path into the penalty box and cut a pass towards Ryan McGivern. The blond-haired defender struck cleanly from the edge of the box but Dean Brill tipped the shot over the crossbar.

A lightening break on the counter from Inverness then ended with Aaron Doran furrowing in from the left flank and curling a shot just beyond the far post.

Those were signs of promise but were trampled by more lumbering passages of play. There was little in the way of composure from either side, although the Inverness passed and moved with a little more conviction than Hibs did. Sam Stanton seemed to prove that when he thrashed a shot wide after 18 minutes.

The pattern continued in the second half. If anything, standards dived further.

In among it all, there were scant flashes of creativity. After 56 minutes, Doran broke on the right and sent a measured pass over the top to Billy McKay. The 20-goal striker controlled the ball on the run, but could only send his shot into the side-netting from 10 yards out.

Five minutes later, Inverness captain Richie Foran was booked for a clumsy two-footed tackle on Stanton. It brought a pained expression from the Hibs youngster and a look of relief on the face of Hughes as Foran avoided more severe punishment. The midfielder was later teased by his former manager. "It was a tame tackle for Richie," said Butcher.

There was hope of a goal for the home side after 71 minutes when a lovely through pass Nick Ross set up Doran to the left of the penalty area, but Ben Williams parried the effort clear of his goal. The match died out with barely a whimper and will soon be forgotten. More pressing matters - and an opportunity to make history, no less - now await Inverness.

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