Graeme Shinnie doesn’t need reminded that the last quarter-final clash with Dundee United descended into something of a fight night, exploding in furore that dominated headlines for weeks.
Inverness Caley Thistle’s League Cup last eight triumph in late October was somewhat overshadowed by the “throat-gate” controversy involving a linesman and Shinnie as “victims” and United’s Nadir Ciftci as alleged culprit.
The Tannadice club’s Turkish attacker was eventually cleared of guilt, with the red card rescinded. Shinnie, similarly, believes it is about time a major misconception regarding Inverness is corrected. The Highlanders are in heady territory approaching, without question, the biggest week in their 20-year existence.
Tomorrow they square up to United again in the Scottish Cup last eight, followed by Terry Butcher’s Hibernian in the chase for European qualification just three days later. Then, the following Sunday, club history will be made as Inverness step out at Celtic Park in their first national final.
Shinnie accepts certain elements of the stereotype that has mushroomed around Caley Thistle’s earthier qualities. Spirit? Yes. Aggression and a streetwise mentality? Yes. But the 22-year-old full-back is at pains to stress the pigeon-holing of his team as some kind of anti-football outfit is plainly ridiculous.
“People will say what they want about us. We don’t really care,” Shinnie stressed. “If we’re winning games, we won’t change anything we’re doing. They can brand us this or that, but, given where we are in the league we must be doing something right.
“It’s definitely wrong to suggest we don’t play football. We’ve proved it many times this season. Our football has come out on top against many a team. We’re not where we are in the league on just being streetwise and battling through games. You have to get the ball in the back of the net. You can’t do that by throwing the ’keeper into the back of the net or whatever they seem to think we do.
“To win football games, you’ve got to be playing good football, passing, creating and scoring goals – and that’s what we’ve been doing all season. It has been blown well out of proportion. We have players in the team who are tough at tackling – every team needs that. But our football comes out on top as well.”
Recalling the powder keg eruption against United back in October – with 13 bookings and Ciftci’s red card – Shinnie doesn’t try to sugar it.
“It did get quite feisty last time, but that’s cup games for you,” the Scotland Under-21 cap said. “There’s always bits and pieces in the game. The boys were just fired up for it. It was a chance for us to reach a semi-final. Sunday might be the same – two teams desperate to get through. There is a chance to go on and win a cup and there’s fire in the belly in every cup game. We just need to focus on what we do and get it right.
“I just remember kick-off, a wee scramble, a couple of goals and we were through to a semi-final. Nothing else! There were bits and pieces going on, people shoving each other. I guess that’s just cup football and people desperate to get through.
“[Ciftci] had me by the face. I think he was rightly sent off. I know he was subsequently cleared, but I think it was the right decision at the time. It got blown up into something that rumbled on for ages, but that happens in football quite a lot. We got through the tie, which we were quite happy about.”
Shinnie knows United have raised the matter in the last few days, even questioning the re-appointment of the same linesman used in the controversial League Cup match. Caley Thistle, in fairness, took only four of those 14 cards issued that day. Shinnie, though, is dismissive of United mind games.
“That’s up to them. I don’t care what they say or do. All we can do is focus on ourselves,” he said. “As long as we’re at it on the day and up for the battle – and playing good football as well – that’s all we can do.”
However, United manager Jackie McNamara also isn’t concerned that Gavin Harris has been named assistant referee again. McNamara said: “I wasn’t really surprised and for me it doesn’t matter who the referee is or his assistants. You just hope they do their jobs and we aren’t talking about them after it. Hopefully, we’ll just be talking about the football and for us it is about getting through and making sure we’re in the semi-final.” McNamara also insists Inverness will not have one eye on next weekend’s League Cup final with Aberdeen. He said: “Their players will be wanting to play in the League Cup final. They’ll want to do enough in their next two games to merit a place in the final. We will have to be at our best but I am confident we can beat anybody. We will give every team respect but I am confident in my players.”
McNamara knows getting past Caley Thistle and going all the way in the cup would make for a dream first full season at the Tannadice helm. He said: “Of course, as it would for every club left in the tournament. We’ve had two Premiership teams before Inverness – Kilmarnock and then St Mirren – and it is a tough test going up there.”
United will be without on-loan Newcastle defender Curtis Good who has a hip injury while teenage duo Ryan Gauld and John Souttar both remain sidelined.