JOHN Robertson is relishing the chance to lock horns with Northern Irish shock troops Crusaders as Caley Thistle target a place in the Irn-Bru Cup final.
The Highlanders, who knocked out Championship visitors Falkirk 1-0 at the weekend, were drawn against the part-timers from Dundee United, who stunned Dundee United 2-1 to reach the last four.
New United boss, former Hearts manager Csaba Laszlo, changed his entire starting 11 on Saturday on his dug-out debut and paid the price as Crusaders, who have also beaten Highland League leaders Cove Rangers and Motherwell under-20s in this competition this year, earned a last-gasp 2-1 win in Tayside.
Another of ICT’s Championship opponents Dumbarton will contest the other semi-final against Welsh Premier League side The New Saints, who beat Queen of the South on penalties on Sunday following a goalless draw at their Shropshire home.
The inclusion of Welsh and teams from Ireland and Northern Ireland have split opinion, but Caley Jags manager Robertson has no issue about facing the battling Crusaders.
He said: "Firstly, it’s a home tie and that’s always what you are after in a draw.
"Crusaders will be wondering about their luck because they have already been over here to play Dundee United at Tannadice and now they have a trip to play us.
"However, having beaten Dundee United and New Saints knocking out Queen of the South, ourselves and Dumbarton know these are not easy ties.
"People have their own opinions about these teams taking part in what is, effectively, the Scottish Challenge Cup, but they are in the semi-finals on merit after getting some great results in the competition.
"We now know our opponents and we will put that to one side now. The players will come back to work and prepare this week for what are two massive games for us"
And those two games could really shape the season for Robertson and his players, who broke a record in that 1-0 win against Falkirk.
They have now kept out opponents for 657 minutes, breaking their previous club record by 40 minutes as they stretched their unbeaten run to seven games.
Caley Jags are home to rock-bottom side Brechin City on Tuesday night before hosting league leaders St Mirren a week on Saturday.
Robertson said: "These are two massive games for us, one after the other at home within four days. If we can get the win against Brechin it would put us a lot closer to the teams in the promotion pack before we face St Mirren."
The ICT manager was delighted to get another positive result against Paul Hartley’s Falkirk on Saturday, adding: ""In the last seven games, we have shown that we are progressing on the pitch, we are doing better and hopefully the fans are warming to the fact we have an honest, hard-working team with some really clever and creative players.
"There is an honesty about them that they will give everything they have got. It not just this run, they have been playing some terrific stuff all season and they are finally getting their rewards, as are the fans."
Having guided ICT to glory in this competition as part of their 2003-04 double, Robertson has never lost a tie in what used to be called the Challenge Cup.
The Irn-Bru Cup semis will take place on the weekend of February 17 and 18 and the schedule may largely depend on TV selections.