Caley Thistle manager John Hughes has branded Dundee United’s visit a must-win match with his club’s European ambitions tantalisingly close to realisation.
The PFA Scotland manager of the year knows his team will have to break a run of nine league games without victory to claim the points which would move them seven above the Tannadice club with three matches to play.
Defeat would whittle the Highlanders’ hard-earned advantage in the race for third spot to just two points.
Hughes said: “This a cup final for us. The teams are very close and it’s one we have to win if we want that European spot. We’re not flying under the radar any more, we’ve got four games to go and a Scottish Cup final to look forward to.
“The league is where we earn our corn. If we beat Dundee United, that will go along way to cementing third spot.
“It won’t guarantee it. Dundee United will come here buoyant and have a bit about them. The two teams have been similar over the last six weeks, they’ve not been flying on all cylinders.”
Recent encounters between the European contenders have been fiery and in February’s 1-1 draw on Tayside United goalkeeper Michael Szromnik was sent off early while Caley Thistle’s Gary Warren followed late in the game after an incident with attacker Nadir Ciftci.
Ciftci was later cited for violent conduct but the charge was found not proven.
In October 2013, Ciftci was also embroiled in controversy after appearing to grab a linesman in a touchline incident during United’s League Cup exit in Inverness.
Hughes admitted: “There seems to be a red flag thrown up when this game comes about. I don’t know if it’s the red cards, or the carry on with Nadir Ciftci and Terry Butcher in the past, but it’s unfair.
“Jackie McNamara likes his teams to play football and, hopefully, we’ve got an experienced referee who lets the game flow.
“Ciftci is the kind of player that would start in my team. He wears his heart on his sleeve and shows his emotions, but there’s nothing wrong with that.”