Caley Thistle completed their side of the bargain with a thoroughly convincing triumph at Morton – but Dunfermline’s win over Dumbarton saw their play-off hopes dashed on the last day.
John Robertson was realistic in his proclamation that a “small footballing miracle” would be required for Caley Jags to break into the top-four, and so it proved. Any hopes of Dumbarton producing a shock victory were all but dispelled after only nine minutes of action at East End Park when the Sons were reduced to 10 men, before the Pars ran riot with a four-goal triumph.
Inverness produced one of their best displays of the campaign against a lacklustre Cappielow outfit, which was deserving of a greater reward.
Nevertheless the victory, which came thanks to a double from George Oakley and a second half Nathan Austin goal, meant the Highlanders ended the campaign in style by clocking up 12 successive matches without defeat – a sequence which included their IRN-BRU Cup glory.
That outstanding form is proof Robertson has the makings of a successful team and he will desperately hope it remains intact throughout the coming weeks as Caley Jags aim to take their momentum into next season.
There were two changes from the side that kept hopes alive with a 1-0 win at Livingston on Tuesday. Aaron Doran was unable to shake off a knock that forced him off the field, while Connor Bell also made way for Nathan Austin and Iain Vigurs, back from suspension to play what could be his last game as he ponders the offer of a new deal.
Inverness pressed from the start and created some early openings with a flowing move from the Highlanders threatening to produce a replica of Tuesday’s decisive goal against Livi. George Oakley teed up Polworth for a strike from 25 yards which whistled narrowly past the right-hand post.
It was one-way traffic and Vigurs was unfortunate to see a curling free kick right on the edge of the box come off the underside of the bar, while Austin was foiled by Conor Brennan and Carl Tremarco struck an effort wide.
The breakthrough was only a matter of time in arriving for Robertson’s men. It was all so simple with Polworth’s corner picking out the head of Oakley at the near post and he was able to steer past Brennan.
Morton had been left trailing in Caley Jags’s wake but they threatened when Gary Fraser fizzed a low strike wide.
There was no stopping Inverness on 38 minutes as Oakley doubled his tally after latching on to a through ball from Austin before rifling home a 14-yard shot which beat Brennan at his near post despite the goalkeeper getting a strong hand on it. It was Oakley’s 12th strike of his debut campaign in Scotland, which he ends as the club’s top scorer.
Ridgers was called into serious action for the first time just before the break, rising to make a fine tip over the bar from Fraser’s free kick.
The Caley Jags goalkeeper, who produced an inspired display in his last visit to Cappielow earlier in the season, maintained his reflexes after the break as he produced a sublime double save on 53 minutes to keep out Gary Harkins’s deflected free kick along with Bob McHugh’s follow-up attempt.
Just as Morton threatened a revival, Caley Thistle killed the game off when Polworth’s through ball picked out Austin in plenty of space and although the former Falkirk striker’s initial attempt was foiled by Brennan, the ball broke kindly for Austin to tap home from close-range.
Caley Jags were able to stroll out the remaining minutes in the Inverclyde sunshine and should have added a fourth when substitute Zak Elbouzedi scooped wide from an excellent position after being picked out by fellow substitute Bell’s delivery.
A seventh win from eight games never looked in much danger as Caley Jags begin a long close-season to plot their second attempt at returning to the top-flight next term.
MORTON (4-4-2) – Brennan 5, Murdoch 5 (Langan 69), Lambie, Doyle, Oliver, Thomson, McHugh (Eardley 80), Harkins, Russell, Fraser 6 (Ross 69), Hynes. Subs not used – Gaston, Purdue.
CALEY THISTLE (4-4-2) – Ridgers 7, Tremarco 7, Chalmers 7, Polworth 6, Austin 6 (Bell 62), Vigurs 8, Oakley 8, Seedorf 6, Mckay 6, Donaldson 6 (Calder 74), Trafford 6 (Elbouzedi 82). Subs not used – Esson, Mulraney, Mackay, Brown.
Referee – John Beaton 7
Man of the match: George Oakley.