Yes folks, it's our annual League Cup semi-final pilgrimage against Hearts at Easter Road coming up this weekend at erm, well, Easter Road. The prize for the victors is a final appearance against Aberdeen who thumped St Johnstone 4-0, with Jonny Hayes and Adam Rooney prominent and amongst the goals.
Similarities to last season are scary. Inverness riding high inside the top six, Hearts struggling at the wrong end of the table, trying to cook the books to enable new recruits to be conjured up out of thin air, Mr Ngoo springs to mind, and the possibilities of us falling out of both cups within a week.
Hearts are once more massaging the SFA in their attempts to bend the rules in their favour, conveniently getting Ryan Stevenson's suspension out of the way prior to the semi-final and looking to bring in fresh faces, despite a signing embargo imposed upon them because of their administration woes. They are of course in a positive mode, well their points tally is anyway having trounced our near neighbours in last weeks SPFL fixture at Dinwgall and coming from a goal down inside a minute to beat St Mirren in that re-arranged midweek fixture to leave them with a total of +5 points,
We have beaten the Jambos twice already this season, both wins were comfortable and both by two goals to nil, home and away, where we could and should have won by even greater margins. However, the gloss seems to have disappeared from our game.
Our blistering start to the season has been eroded away and we seem to have been swallowed up by the pack. Our goals for has dried up, only three goals in our last six games. Billy McKay was prolific at the start of the season and even he has endured lean times recently. Mind you, were it not for Billy's eye for goal, we would be lingering in the also rans stables and surely it's time for Inverness to get some help for the wee man who has been ploughing a lone furrow recently.
Much has been said about Hearts having a youthful side. That itself is true, but what they lack in experience, they more than make up for with a total lack of fear and plenty of tenacity. They have taken a couple of batterings this season and that was to be expected as they were badly exposed against Celtic. However, put them into a battle with arch rivals Hibernian in a fierce Edinburgh derby and they fought to the bitter end and in fact ended Hibs run in the last round of the League Cup, although they just lost out in the league game a couple of weeks ago, but not for the want of trying.
Inverness have not been firing on all cylinders since well before Xmas, and the departure of Terry Butcher has not helped. John Hughes has a thankless task trying to maintain Butcher's excellent start to the campaign, and it will be impossible to better it, given that we reached the heady heights of second in the League giving some of our supporters the notion that we were going to challenge Celtic for top spot...........steady on chaps and chapesses.
The confidence of the fans looks as though it has matched the teams belief at the moment and even the most ardent of loyal supporters are, to put it mildly, shiting themselves over the thought of facing a resurgent Hearts in front of yet another hostile crowd in Edinburgh, and rightly so. We struggled to get out of second gear at Kilmarnock while Hearts were ripping into County at the weekend. Last year we were maybe over confident and paid the price as Hearts rolled up their young sleeves and got stuck in. This time I see no difference to that format and we need to match Hearts exuberance or the outcome may well be similar.
It took extra-time and penalties to separate the sides last year although Billy McKay should have scored the winner but he inexplicably forgot he was a predatory striker for a couple of seconds and missed a glorious chance to strike in extra-time. The rest is history and the Phillip Roberts penalty miss is the one lasting memory of that fateful day that lingers longest. That and the miserable treatment we received in Paul Kane's pub pre-match where nobody ordered pies for the ravenous Inverness support, despite the thousands of pounds being emptied into the tills at the Four in Hand. Rank rotten treatment from the former Hibee and one to avoid this time methinks, although the promise of grub is once more on the table.
Inverness skipper Richie Foran is playing it close to his chest about his chances of playing on the Sabbath. He is well under way with his training and he could be influential, even from the bench. Yogi has a full squad otherwise and team selection is vital for this game with Draper, Tansey and Vincent all vying for a start in midfield, an area where this tie may well be won or lost.
Hearts have brought in this seasons Mr Ngoo with a replica loan signing in the shape of big Paul McCallum from West Ham. Ryan Stevenson's ban was completed in that midweek win over the Buddies and he will be an important player for Hearts who have lost Adam King to Swansea and have Jason Holt and Jamie Walker out injured.
tm4tj Prediction:- Well, we have beaten Hearts twice already this season but this is a different kettle of fish. The Jambos are on a high after consecutive wins have put them into positive points. But it's not only their points tally that is positive, they have been playing with real desire of late and with little else to play for this season, then all their eggs will be in the same basket and they will be fully committed to this one. They won on penalties last year and it might take extra time to settle this one, but Inverness have the quality to win this outright provided the attitude and application matches that of the capital side. I'll settle for a 1-0 win for Inverness to make their first major final. These guys can be heroes, just for one day............................
By tm4tj •Hearts -V- Inverness CT League Cup S/FTeaser Paragraph: