Caley Thistle – last season’s Scottish Cup runners-up – advanced through their third round tie thanks to a hard-fought 2-0 victory against Lowland League visitors Cowdenbeath.
The Championship club, now unbeaten in seven straight matches since boss Duncan Ferguson arrived, came through this home tie unscathed.
Yet, it took late goals from substitutes David Wotherspoon and Billy Mckay to avert the real possibility of extra-time and potentially penalties.
Ferguson insists, although it took a while, he always believed his men would get the victory.
He said: “They’re never easy matches.
“Cowdenbeath sat in for most of the game, and we had most of the possession but struggled to break them down.
“We had a couple of chances in the first half that never quite went for us, their keeper made a good save and we had one off the bar which gets you thinking it might be a long day.
“We always had belief that we could break them down, and that’s what happened – it doesn’t matter if it’s the first minute or the last, we managed to break them down in the end.”
And the ICT manager praised their lower-league opponents and was grateful for the know-how of Wotherspoon and Mckay in the end.
He added: “Patience in your mind and being quick on your feet is crucial. You want to move it quickly while keeping a calm head.
“In the first half, the ball wasn’t moving as quickly as we wanted it to move, but credit to Cowdenbeath, they kept their shape well which made it difficult for us to make that final pass.
“We put a bit of quality on the pitch and I think that told in the end.”
Cowdenbeath are 13th in their division and Ferguson stressed pre-match their opponents had nothing to lose in their bid for an upset.
In fact, just three years ago, the Blue Brazil, as a League Two team, took ICT to penalties at the Caledonian Stadium after a 0-0 draw in a League Cup group stage clash before being edged out.
Caley Thistle, who won the Scottish Cup under John Hughes in 2015, have knocked out higher opponents over the years, so they were determined to be on the other side of that scenario.
As expected, ICT rung the changes – seven of them – from the side which drew 1-1 last week in the league away to Dunfermline Athletic.
In came Sean Welsh, returning from injury, goalkeeper Cammy MacKay, defenders Wallace Duffy and Zak Delaney, winger Luis Longstaff and attackers Adam Brooks and Cillian Sheridan.
Calum Elliot’s main team news for Cowden was a debut for right-back Greg MacPherson, who signed during the week. He is the brother of their number nine forward, Ewan.
The first chance fell to ex-Dundee front-man Sheridan in his first start since arriving on his short-team deal as his header from a Longstaff free-kick was cleared off the line by Jack Tait.
Cowden keeper Craig Hepburn was called into play on 14 minutes as his save with his feet diverted a Nathan Shaw drive over the crossbar.
The visitors were well organised, snappy and sharp, keeping ICT largely at a distance. A long-range shot from Matty MacDonald flew a foot or so off target as a warning shot.
The teams went in goalless at the break and Ferguson had plenty to ponder.
It seemed as if Inverness were poised to make the breakthrough early in the second half, but Cowdenbeath skipper Robbie McNab was on hand to clear a shot from Brooks, stemming from a swift attack down the left.
Moments later, Hepburn got down smartly to thwart Sheridan as he raced through on goal.
Sheridan was gifted a chance on 58 minutes when McNab’s misplaced pass fell in favour of the forward, but a brilliant challenge from Gregor Jordan stopped him in his tracks.
With 20 minutes to go, it was time for change when David Carson replaced Duffy, and Billy Mckay and Wotherspoon replaced Brooks and Sheridan.
The big-hitters were on as time ticked down dangerously for Inverness.
Thankfully for the hosts, Wotherspoon delivered a rousing finish from the edge of the box on 80 minutes to put ICT ahead and seal a nervy tie after he collected a pass from Welsh.
Five minutes later, Billy Mckay, from a Shaw assist, guided home a high finish to put gloss on the scoreline.
This was far from convincing, but this was all about getting through, by hook or by crook.
CALEY THISTLE (4-4-2): MacKay 6, Duffy 6 (Carson 71), Ujdur 6, Devine 6, Delaney 6, Shaw 7, Gilmour 6, Welsh 6 (Davidson 90), Longstaff 7 (Lodovica 90), Brooks 6 (Mckay 71), Sheridan 6 (Wotherspoon 71).
Subs not used: Ridgers (GK), Harper, Hyde, Thompson.
COWDENBEATH (4-1-4-1): Hepburn 7, Greg MacPherson 6, Jordan 6, McNab 6, Tait 6, McLaughlin 6 (Adam MacDonald 77), Jack 6 (Berry 56), Matty McDonald 6 (Chalmers 77), Butterworth 6, Docherty 6, Ewan MacPherson 6 (Cunningham 77).
Subs not used: Blair (GK), Walker.
Referee: Graham Grainger.
Star Man: Luis Longstaff.