Caley Thistle continued their impressive turnaround in form with a Nikolay Todorov-inspired 3-1 win over struggling Morton.
First-half goals from Scott Allardice and Todorov put them into a dominant position and while Robbie Muirhead pulled one back in the second period, a sensational second from Todorov restored their two-goal advantage.
Daniel MacKay delivered a sumptuous fourth to cap off a hugely impressive evening for the resurgent Caley Jags.
It is their sixth win on the bounce in all competitions and their fourth in the league, which has carried them into the play-off places.
Last month, after struggling to acquit themselves following John Robertson’s leave of absence, they appeared to be stuck in a tail-spin. But another three points keeps them in the thick of the play-off hunt.
The visitors were forced into a late change to their team, with captain Sean Welsh pulling out in the warm-up. Roddy MacGregor was drafted in from the bench with Brad Mckay taking the armband.
The resurrection under Neil McCann, after a sticky start, has quietly made Inverness into a play-off contender again. After flirtation with the lower reaches of the Championship table, three straight league wins and progress through two rounds of the Scottish Cup had made the outlook a little brighter in the Highland capital.
Friday night’s win over neighbours Ross County was a sign of the strides made by the Caley Jags, who started again without a recognised full-back in their 11.
David Carson, a central midfielder who plays like he runs on Duracell, has been a revelation at right-back and is contender for their player of the season. Robbie Deas has found himself at left-back by virtue of being a left-footed centre-half; he lacks the attacking instincts of Cameron Harper but has been a solid stop-gap solution.
It was Deas with the first sight of goal, heading a Scott Allan free-kick wide, while Mark Ridgers was a touch fortunate to see Michael Ledger’s header come straight back off him and go wide.
Caley Thistle felt they had a shout for a penalty, which was waved away by referee Steven Reid. MacKay, the match-winner in the derby, nipped in front of Luca Colville and took a tumble, however Reid was not interested.
He ought to have added to his growing CV just before the half-hour mark after he was picked out by Allan. MacKay made a smart inside run from the right flank and Allan found him with a route to goal; Aidan McAdams parried the initial shot but under pressure from the retreating Morton defence, MacKay hit the rebound over.
The lead came in somewhat mad-cap circumstances, with Allardice firing high into the net from an indirect free-kick inside the box.
Stephen McGinn’s long ball back to McAdams caused the goalkeeper some uncertainty, with the stopper back-tracking towards his goal and heading it up in the air before claiming it. After several seconds where Reid allowed play to continue, he brought play to a halt and awarded the indirect free-kick just outside the six-yard box.
Allan rolled the ball back to the ex-Dundee United man and he managed to clear the onrushing blue-and-white shirts to find the net.
One became two and again set-pieces were Morton’s undoing. The hosts failed to clear an Allan free-kick, with MacKay nodding the ball back into the danger area into Todorov’s path. Similar to his goal against County, Todorov struck across the ball and found the corner.
Todorov is another who has earned the trust of McCann and repaid him, scoring in his last three games and providing a focal point for the Caley Thistle attacks. The balls into him tend to stick, with MacKay, Allan and Miles Storey able to operate in the spaces around him.
Muirhead’s smart finish, shooting on the turn from McGinn’s lay-off, created a more frantic half-hour than McCann and Caley Thistle would have wanted.
But Todorov was to put the icing on the cake in some fashion. Rocking back just inside the box, collecting a cross-field pass from Shane Sutherland on his chest, Todorov swivelled and pummeled the ball acrobatically past McAdams.
MacKay added his name to scoresheet in impressive style, cutting in from the left and curling the ball over a stranded goalkeeper.
If you had said six weeks ago Inverness would be on a promotion charge spearheaded by Todorov, serious questions would have been raised.
Now? It appears their best hope of making that aspiration a reality.