Caley Thistle’s Betfred Cup hopes came crashing down as Hearts thumped them 5-0 in a torturous afternoon in the capital.
Uche Ikpeazu was their main source of problems, bagging two first-half goals and bullying the visiting defence, with Ben Garuccio’s free-kick and Steven Naismith’s two second-half headers doing the damage.
It relegated Inverness to second in Group C and with a goal-difference two worse than Partick Thistle, meaning they dropped out of contention for a place in the last 16.
Despite winning their first three games and Hearts having two points deducted for fielding an ineligible player against Cove Rangers, the Caley Jags’ participation in the competition is over and the Jambos advance as group winners.
Charlie Trafford and Jordan White came into the line-up for Inverness, with Nathan Austin and George Oakley dropping to the bench. Craig Levein made three alterations from the 5-0 drubbing of Cowdenbeath, with Aaron Hughes, Olly Lee and Ikpeazu in for Michael Smith, Andrew Irving and Lafferty.
Caley Jags boss John Robertson is a legend in Gorgie for his exploits in a Hearts shirt but was not the only ex-Jambo in the away team, with Brad Mckay and Mark Ridgers both coming through the academy at the Edinburgh club. Jake Mulraney, a IRN-BRU Cup winner with Inverness last season, was a substitute for the hosts.
The first 15 minutes belonged to the home side, with Ikpeazu proving a nuisance to the Caley Thistle defence. Coll Donaldson inadvertently stopped him from finishing Garuccio’s cross by tumbling on top of the ball and Ridgers had time to get across goal and gather his header from John Souttar’s free-kick.
Joe Chalmers had the best chance of the opening 20 minutes as part of a swift break, being teed up by Tom Walsh unmarked in the left side of the area but watching his measured shot roll wide.
Ikpeazu took his chance well for the opening goal on 28 minutes, getting the better of White to meet Olly Lee’s corner and turn it beyond Ridgers.
It prompted five minutes of madness for the visitors, with Hearts doubling their lead on 31 minutes through Garuccio’s well-taken free-kick, after Donaldson needlessly bundled over Steven Naismith on the edge of the box.
Craig Levein’s side had breathing space two minutes later as Ikpeazu rose at the back post to head Garuccio’s cross back across goal and inside the far post.
Tom Walsh and Charlie Trafford drew saves out of Zdenek Zlamal but Inverness’ positional discipline had gone, with the knowledge that another goal would see them go out.
Caley Thistle switched to a 4-4-2 in the second half to give themselves more of an attacking threat, with Polworth teasing a shot across goal that threatened to creep in.
Chalmers saw a free-kick beaten away by Zlamal before the excellent Naismith got his name on the scoresheet, directing Callumn Morrison’s cross back where it came to beat Ridgers.
Lafferty hit the post with his first touch as it threatened to get worse for the away side before Naismith got his second in near-identical fashion with nine minutes left from Lee’s centre.
Austin clipped the outside of the post in the 90th minute but Inverness never looked like resurrecting their Betfred Cup prospects, which are over for another season.