Caley Thistle capitalised on the opportunity to return straight back into the top of the table mix with a clinical victory over fellow contenders Ayr United.
Inverness went into the game five points behind the Honest Men, with the Highlanders’ 3-1 defeat to Partick Thistle the previous weekend giving the Somerset Park outfit the chance to open up a hefty gap with a home victory.
Caley Jags had other ideas, although they had goalkeeper Mark Ridgers to thank for making some key early saves to deny Ayr the early breakthrough which could have made all the difference.
Following James Vincent’s 31st-minute opener Caley Jags always looked in command, with Shaun Rooney adding a fine second goal midway through the second half to wrap up the points.
With leaders Dundee United losing to Alloa Athletic on Friday, the result became even more significant as it returns John Robertson’s men to within two points of the summit.
Robertson cut a highly frustrated figure following the defeat to Thistle seven days previously.
However he kept faith with the same side, which meant Roddy MacGregor retained his place following an encouraging display.
Robertson said: “We asked the players to show a bit of character after last week. That’s why I wanted to go with the same team, because in the second 45 minutes we fell below our standards.
“I wanted them to show that’s all it was. We said to them Ayr would start fast, they are full of confidence as they have been the form team in the league.
“We wanted the lads to show we are a good side and we can play good football, but we had to show a different side with a real resolute performance.”
Both sides threatened an opener within a frantic opening 10 minutes. Caley Jags instantly hit the front foot, with Miles Storey’s low effort diverted wide by Ross Doohan following Jordan White’s flick on.
Ayr quickly made their own mark on the game, forcing Caley Jags goalkeeper Ridgers into action on three separate occasions.
Ridgers’ first intervention came on four minutes, when he did well to hold Luke McCowan’s strike after the winger had cut past Carl Tremarco.
An even more impressive save came just two minutes later, when he did brilliantly to block Michael Moffat’s shot after a neat touch had put the striker through, while another save denied Alan Forrest from close range on 10 minutes.
After the game had settled down, Inverness were dealt a blow just before the half-hour mark when Sean Welsh hobbled off, with Charlie Trafford brought on to replace him.
It proved little distraction for the Highlanders, who took the lead on 31 minutes.
Ayr were far from happy, as they initially appealed for a foul on Daniel Harvie by White.
Shaun Rooney’s drilled return ball from the right was beaten clear by goalkeeper Ross Doohan, but only as far as Vincent who stabbed home the first goal of his second Inverness spell from 12 yards.
Ayr’s efforts to restore parity amounted to a long-range Stephen Kelly strike which drifted narrowly over before the interval, while Harvie and McCowan both had efforts blocked shortly after the restart.
Rooney’s second goal came at a crucial stage on 65 minutes to virtually kill the game. The full-back latched on to a hopeful Coll Donaldson ball just inside Ayr’s half, with his marauding run taking him past Sam Roscoe before he slotted past Doohan, to the delight of Robertson.
The Caley Jags boss added: “It was a tremendous goal from the big man. I don’t know what he was doing there in the first place – I can only assume he was coming back from a previous attack.
“He gambled with a great run, his first touch was superb, his second took him inside the defender, and then he showed a bit of composure with a slide rule finish.”
Caley Jags had further chances, with Aaron Doran shooting narrowly over and Vincent foiled by Doohan, but it was a job well done by them.