An afternoon in which Caley Thistle simply never got going against Arbroath cost the Highlanders a welcome opportunity to cut the gap at the top of the Championship.
Runaway pacesetters Dundee United’s 1-1 draw against city rivals Dundee the previous evening had given Inverness encouragement they could make slight ground on Robbie Neilson’s men with a home victory, which would have reduced the gap to 11 points.
Arbroath had other ideas however, as they took full advantage of a thoroughly off-colour performance by Caley Jags. Dick Campbell’s men continue to defy their part-time status in the second-tier, where they now sit just three points adrift of the promotion play-off spots.
The Red Lichties’ threat should have come as no surprise to the Highlanders, who were humbled 3-0 when the sides last met at Gayfield in November.
The Angus outfit once again outworked and outthought their opponents. Luke Donnelly’s second half goal was enough to defeat Caley Thistle, who would have been on the receiving end of a heavier defeat but for an outstanding goalkeeping display from Mark Ridgers.
John Robertson emerged from a lengthy post-match discussion with his players in angry mood, and he said: “A bit disappointed doesn’t even cover it. Pathetic is the only way to describe our play.
“They were warned. Dick has a team full of honest lads who will get stuck in, they will give everything they have got and won’t leave anything out there.
“We were not at it. After 10 minutes I turned around to Scott Kellacher and said it was lacklustre, we were not moving it quickly.
“Our passing from the back was poor, it was slow and it allowed Arbroath to get into a compact shape and frustrate us.
“The fact our goalkeeper was man of the match tells you all you need to know.”
Caley Jags’ flat display was all the harder to comprehend given the momentum they had generated since their last meeting with Arbroath, having clocked up five wins and five clean sheets from the last six matches, and Robertson opted to remain unchanged from the side that convincingly triumphed 2-0 over Dunfermline the previous weekend.
There was little to excite supporters of either side in the early stages, with Inverness visibly lacking the attacking spark of recent weeks.
The Highlanders had no shortage of possession, but struggled to find the solution required to break down a well organised Red Lichties rearguard.
The hosts’ best chance of the opening half came just before the half-hour mark when Jordan White took the ball just outside the box, before powering a low strike at goal which was unconvincingly turned wide by goalkeeper Derek Gaston.
Donaldson was presented with an opening moments later, but lashed well wide after the ball broke to him from Aaron Doran’s free-kick.
The best first half opportunity fell the way of the visitors however, with Bobby Linn played clean through on goal but thwarted by a fine block from Ridgers.
It was an uninspiring first half but Arbroath gave their supporters reason to cheer less than two minutes into the second half. The ball was worked to the left flank for Linn, who laid a tempting ball to the near post for Donnelly to tuck past Ridgers from close range.
Arbroath were inches from netting a second moments later when Mark Whatley sent an angled effort wide, when any touch would have taken it goalwards.
Inverness’ efforts to strike back amounted to very little goalscoring danger, however they did have the ball in the net on 64 minutes, with Rooney flagged offside when he nodded Doran’s cross into the path of Miles Storey to tap home.
Robertson disputed the decision but not the end result, adding: “We have seen it on the video and Rooney is two yards onside when the cross is played. By the time he gets there the linesman thinks he’s off, it’s a poor decision. That’s papering over the cracks though – we didn’t deserve anything.”