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John Hughes aware cup progress will not come easily . . .

The admiration which John Hughes has for Stranraer is now fully grown.

It has been fostered by the SPFL League 1 club's links to the junior game, a connection which the Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager shares. He was reared at Newtongrange Star early in his playing career and retains an appreciation for the approach of players in the junior game.

A few such players have since made their way to Stranraer, a side which earned a William Hill Scottish Cup fifth round replay against Inverness tonight. The initial tie ended 2-2 and the Start Park side will now make the trip to the Highlands with a chance of continuing on to the quarter-finals.

Their journey is expected to be way-laid tonight against SPFL Premiership opposition, although Hughes is not inclined to make such a claim given the spirit he witnessed during the first game with Stranraer.

"Stephen Aitken has done a wonderful job [as manager]," said the Inverness manager. "I was at Stair Park last year with Livingston and you could see the hard work that goes on there. A year later I was back there and the place was immaculate, spotless - I could smell the fresh paint.

"I know they had a lot of rain at Stranraer and the groundsman worked overtime to get the [initial cup tie] on. The surface cut up, but there was a great effort to get the game on. They are not a bad side. They have one or two ex junior players and when you play in the juniors you need to know what it is like to put in a shift."

Hughes has made his players aware that getting through the rest of the season will be hard work should they suffer defeat this evening. Inverness have not had to look far for incentive, though, with Josh Meekings acknowledging that the campaign would be tarnished with a Scottish Cup exit, despite the club having reached the final of the Scottish League Cup already.

"If we got to the final in one cup and got knocked out by Stranraer in another, it would be a bitterly disappointing thing," said the Inverness defender. "We want to get as far as we can in both cups. We've said that right from the start."

The message from Aitken this week has been just as easy to follow. A quarter-final against Dundee United awaits the winner of the replay in the Highlands and the Stranraer manager has sought to remind his players that they have already scored eight times against top-flight opposition this season, so they have little reason to feel overwhelmed in Inverness.

"We have to keep it tight at the back and look to nick a goal," said Aitken, who is without both Chris Aitken and Marc Corcoran tonight. "We have scored in 28 games in a row so we are confident that if we get an opening we can score.

"As well as scoring twice in the first game with Inverness, we scored three times against Ross County and scored three times at Easter Road against Hibs in the Scottish League Cup. We have an attacking threat so if we can keep Inverness out we have a chance."

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