Make no mistake, Caley Thistle are hurtling toward relegation.
This was yet another miserable afternoon for Inverness, leaving them four points adrift at the bottom of the table with only six games left. Their dire run of one victory from 21 Premiership games is relegation form in any league, and Richie Foran’s men are fortunate the inconsistency of other teams has kept the gap as narrow as it has been until now.
The damage is in serious danger of becoming irreversible towards the end of a season that has simply never got going. In recent weeks the players had looked up for the task, claiming some spirited draws, but they looked defeated when Larnell Cole was shown a foolish red card nine minutes from time when they were only a goal down.
Foran’s men had large spells of possession, particularly during the first half, and although they worked the ball into dangerous areas there was a clear lack of ruthless edge. Their inability to convert bit them when Saints took the lead against the run of play through Steven MacLean’s scrappy goal five minutes before half-time, but the result was in little doubt thereafter.
Few teams are better at managing a lead than Saints, who were able to squeeze all life out of the game after the break. After Cole’s sending off for dissent nine minutes from time, only seconds before he was due to be substituted, the hosts imploded, with Liam Craig and Graham Cummins doing further damage in the dying minutes. The misery was compounded after the game, with captain Gary Warren dismissed in the tunnel for protesting to referee Stephen Finnie.
Foran had set the now unattainable target of four points from his side’s two pre-split matches to generate momentum.
If Saturday’s game against Motherwell did not already carry enough meaning, the prospect of a defeat leaving them seven points behind the side nearest them in the table highlights how alarmingly close Inverness are to being swept adrift.
There were three changes from the side that went down 1-0 against Aberdeen in midweek. Attacker Alex Fisher was handed his first start since September, while Jamie McCart and Cole also came in to replace David Raven, who was out with a groin injury, and Henri Anier while Liam Polworth dropped to the bench.
Inverness started brightly, with Fisher’s header from Greg Tansey’s corner inadvertently deflected over by Carl Tremarco, however Saints created the best early chance when Cummins nodded inches wide from Brian Easton’s delivery.
A lack of composure continued to be Inverness’ downfall. Fisher and Tremarco were off target, while Billy Mckay was denied by fellow Northern Irishman Alan Mannus who rushed out to make an important save on 32 minutes.
The game had passed St Johnstone by for the most part but out of nowhere they exposed the defensive vulnerabilities that have plagued Inverness all season. Michael Coulson’s cut-back was palmed away by Owain Fon Williams, allowing the unmarked MacLean to bundle home from close range despite Warren’s attempted clearance.
Within 60 seconds Cole spurned an excellent chance to equalise when he went through on goal, only to shoot straight at Mannus from 12 yards. Saints should have added a second before the break though, when Craig’s corner picked out the unmarked Cummins who somehow scooped over.
Cole compounded a miserable day when he was shown a stupid red card, talking his way into a second yellow only moments after initially being booked for dissent following Craig’s challenge on him.
There was no attempt from Inverness to rally following the dismissal, and it was game over when Craig tucked home from the spot following Tremarco’s foul on Cummins. It got worse when Cummins squeezed home a third from close-range moments later, and there was nearly time for a fourth when Craig’s rasping long-range strike crashed off the crossbar.