Scottish Cup-winning Caley Thistle manager John Hughes reckons the Highlanders will go into their fifth-round showdown with Hibernian with plenty of confidence.
Hughes, who has bossed both clubs, lifted the silverware with ICT in 2015 after a 2-1 final victory against Falkirk.
One year later, the Leith side knocked out Inverness in a quarter-final replay.
ICT’s Andréa Mbuyi-Mutombo cancelled out James Keatings’ opener for Hibs as it ended 1-1 at Easter Road.
Two swift goals late in the first half from Anthony Stokes put Hibs on the brink – and Iain Vigurs’ reply was not enough to halt the holders crashing out.
Hibs went on to win the trophy for the first time in 113 years, beating Rangers 3-2 in the final after knocking out Dundee United in the semis.
Inverness were the cup runners-up to Celtic last year and their fans will fancy their chances of beating another top-flight team, having defeated Livingston and Hibs on the road to the final last summer.
Beating Hibs can inspire league lift
Hughes is relishing the clash, which will be played on the weekend of February 10.
He said: “Hibs beat us the year after we won the Scottish Cup when they went on to win it in 2016, so Inverness might be looking for a wee bit of payback.
“They will be underdogs, even though they are at home, so everything will fall in their favour in that respect.
“Hibs are a Premiership team with great ambitions to try and finish as high as they can in the league.
“If Caley Thistle can beat Hibs, that will give them the inspiration to kick on in the Championship.
“Hibs will know they’re in a game. They were not great against Forfar at the weekend.
“They are not yet hitting the heights and have had a few injury problems. Martin Boyle has been injured and Josh Campbell picked up an injury against Hearts recently.
“Against Forfar, the manager played a couple of younger lads, but I don’t think he will get away with that against Inverness.”
The full draw for the Fifth Round of the 2023-24 @scottishgas Men's Scottish Cup.
— Scottish Gas Scottish Cup (@ScottishCup) January 21, 2024
Hughes reckons tie ‘will be a cracker’
Hughes believes Hibs, at their peak, should go through, but also knows Ferguson’s fired-up men will be ready to spring a surprise if they can.
He said: “I saw Inverness on TV against Dundee United recently and I still don’t know how they lost that one. All their energy should be going to staying in the league, but this is a tie where they’ve nothing to lose.
“The history of Inverness and the Scottish Cup is special. It does something to you.
“Billy Dodds took them to the final last year, so they have a good history with the competition. A run also takes your mind off the pressure in the league. You must bring that to the table.
“On their day, Hibs are a really good side with plenty of good players. The manager is looking to bring a few in before that tie.
“These two teams will give one another every bit of respect they deserve. It will be a cracker.
“If Hibs are at their best, they’ll probably win it. I’ve seen Hibs in that form and they play some really nice stuff.
“However, to do that, they need all their best players on the pitch and they have to play very well to come away with a win.
“They’ve just not found consistency yet. If I’m not working (as a co-commentator on BBC Scotland), I’ll come up to see that game.”
Meanwhile, highly-rated Inverness midfielder Keith Bray, 17, has gone on loan to League Two Elgin City for the remainder of the season.
Bray broke through into first-team action at the start of this season under Dodds, making nine appearances, but has not played under Ferguson, so will welcome the chance to rack up competitive minutes for the Moray side, who are ninth in the table.
Elgin also confirmed that defender Owen Cairns and goalkeeper Oliver Kelly have signed new deals to remain with the club until the summer of 2026.
This weekend, Elgin host Dumbarton before basement side Clyde visit Borough Briggs on Tuesday.
The club can confirm that Keith Bray has joined SPFL cinch League Two side @ElginCityFC on loan until the end of the season.
We wish Keith all the best with his loan spell! 🔴🔵
— Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC (@ICTFC) January 23, 2024