What looked like a tricky day at the office turned out to be a rout as Caley Thistle showed a sparkling response to early adversity against Dumbarton.
After falling behind to Grant Gallacher’s early strike, the Highlanders rallied and, in Nathan Austin, they possessed a striker with the Midas touch, with his treble added to by strikes from Aaron Doran and Iain Vigurs to record Inverness’ biggest win of the season.
Austin’s Caley Jags career has been stop-start through injury since joining from Falkirk in January but, with four goals in his last three games, his form at a crucial stage could be key to the Highlanders’ ongoing Championship promotion hopes.
Although the points gap remains the same, with eight point separating them from the play-off spots, Inverness are starting to ramp up the pressure on the teams above them and have games in hand in their favour – starting with tomorrow’s away match against the Sons.
Changes were enforced upon John Robertson, with Carl Tremarco, Coll Donaldson and Charlie Trafford suspended. Collin Seedorf, Riccardo Calder and Doran were drafted in. It was an even start to the match, with Caley Thistle’s closest early attempt coming within the opening 10 minutes. Iain Vigurs has declared himself off penalty taking duties but there was no stopping him in taking the first free kick of the day, with the midfielder curling an effort narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
Inverness fell behind on 13 minutes, however. Dumbarton broke down the right flank, with Andrew Stirling getting the better of Calder, who was left grounded, with the cutback lashed high into the net by the onrushing Gallacher.
It was a setback but the Highlanders produced the ideal response with a stunning equaliser just four minutes later, with Doran lashing an excellent strike past Scott Gallacher from 25 yards, giving the Sons’ breakthrough barely any time to take effect.
Inverness went in search of another goal, with Liam Polworth and Doran both off target with efforts from the edge of the box. Dumbarton threatened once again through the dangerous Stirling, whose whipped delivery narrowly evaded the run of Calum Gallacher.
Caley Jags got themselves in front just four minutes before the break courtesy of a superbly worked goal. Doran was this time the architect, with his threaded pass picking out the run of Austin, who rounded the goalkeeper before doing brilliantly to squeeze the ball home from a tight angle.
Although they had turned the game on its head, Inverness emerged for the second half looking determined to make the points safe, with Polworth dragging a low effort wide.
Inverness’ third goal arrived on 50 minutes. It was another excellent move, which saw Oakley play in Polworth’s run before the midfielder lifted the ball over the advancing Gallacher to set up Austin for an easy tap-in to double his tally.
Caley Jags struck twice in quick succession to make sure of the points. The fourth goal arrived on 63 minutes when Joe Chalmers’ free kick eventually made its way to the feet of Vigurs, who guided the ball home on the turn from close range. Within three minutes Inverness completed the scoring when Calder squared the ball for Austin, who showed instinctive finishing to drill a fine finish past Gallacher.
Robertson rang the changes with Zak Elbouzedi, Connor Bell and Jake Mulraney getting some action and there were still further chances to add to the scoring, with Bell striking the sidenetting and Mulraney denied by Gallacher.
It was an ultimately comfortable afternoon for Robertson’s men, keeping their play-off fate in their own hands with four games to go.
CALEY THISTLE (4-4-2) – Ridgers 6, Chalmers 6, Warren 6, Polworth 7, Austin 8 (Bell 69), Doran 8 (Elbouzedi 64), Vigurs 8 (Mulraney 71), Oakley 7, Calder 6, Seedorf 6, Mckay 6. Subs not used – Esson, Mackay, Brown, Harper.
DUMBARTON (4-1-4-1) – S. Gallacher 5, McLaughlin 5, Dowie 5, G. Gallacher 5 (Hill 76), C. Gallacher 5 (Stewart 67), Wilson 5 (Burt 58), Hutton 5, Handling 5, Nisbet 6, Stirling 7, Barr 5. Subs not used – Ewings, Walsh, Froxylias.
Referee – Gavin Duncan 6.
Man of the match: Nathan Austin.