Caley Thistle’s grip on the play-offs is looking ever stronger after they clocked up a third straight victory over Dunfermline.
Inverness were unable to find a breakthrough in a thoroughly dominant first half display, however a stunning strike by Reece McAlear put them ahead just short of the hour mark.
Although the Pars applied pressure in pursuit of an equaliser, substitute Austin Samuels put the game beyond doubt with his first goal in Caley Jags colours.
The crucial triumph keeps Billy Dodds’ men comfortably in third place, four points ahead of Partick Thistle and six ahead of Raith Rovers who sit just outside the play-offs spots.
Caley Jags also closed the gap on second-placed Arbroath who they now trail by six points, with five matches remaining.
Dodds made two changes from the side which struck late to defeat Raith Rovers 3-2 the previous weekend. Unsurprisingly Logan Chalmers was handed a start following his last-gasp double, with Wallace Duffy also drafted into the backline. Danny Devine and Joe Hardy were the players that made way.
Sam Pearson was also absent through international duty with Wales under-21s, leaving only five substitutes.
Chalmers was visibly high in confidence in the early stages, and he was first to threaten with an 11th minute effort from virtually the same angle as last weekend’s winner. This his left-footed drive was well saved by Deniz Mehmet, with the Pars defence clearing from the advancing Billy Mckay.
Both sides looked tidy in possession but it was Inverness who continued to produce goal threat, with a low Robbie Deas delivery guided wide by Aaron Doran on 16 minutes.
A corner by Doran led to another chance for Chalmers when the ball was cleared to him at the edge of the box, but he struck his effort high over the bar.
Mckay got among the goalmouth action with two opportunities in quick succession. His first effort was presented to him by an excellent Shane Sutherland through ball, with the eventual shot blocked behind by Efe Ambrose.
That led to a corner which was cleared back to Doran whose delivery to the far post picked out Mckay, but he lashed his shot wide of the near post.
Dunfermline’s chances were few and far between, with Kevin O’Hara and Joe Chalmers both well off target with strikes from the edge of the area.
Inverness began to take complete control of the first half though, with the Pars struggling to gain any grip of the game.
Doran was at the heart of much of Inverness’ play, and he flashed an effort just wide from the edge of the box after Mckay had laid the ball off to him.
It was McAlear who came the closest to opening the scoring three minutes before the break, when he let fly with a curling free-kick which came back off the angle of the post and crossbar.
Chances were few and far between at the start of the second half, but the moment that put Caley Jags ahead was worth waiting for. It came about from another set-piece, with Sean Welsh initially seeing his free-kick blocked. The ball fell perfectly into the path of McAlear, who this time thumped his 25-yard strike high into the net off Deniz Mehmet’s right-hand post.
It was a worthy breakthrough for Dodds’ men, however parity was nearly restored on 63 minutes. Substitutes Ryan Dow and Nikolay Todorov combined within moments of coming on, with Dow’s cross setting up a far post chance for the Bulgarian, which Cammy Mackay did well to turn behind with his feet.
The Pars continued to probe, with O’Hara seeing an effort cleared away from the goalmouth by Duffy, while a Coll Donaldson strike was deflected into the path of Dow whose close-range effort forced another fine save by Mackay.
Chances continued to come at both ends, with Deas forced to make a strong block to deny Bobby Kamwa. At the other end, there were no takers for Sutherland’s dangerous delivery following some fine wing play down the right.
Inverness wrapped up the points on 77 minutes however, with Samuels making a telling impact with his first touch. The attacker was played in on goal by a lovely Doran through ball, which he sent past Mehmet with a cool low finish.
CALEY THISTLE (4-2-3-1) – Mackay 7; Carson 6, Duffy 6, Broadfoot 6, Deas 7; McAlear 8, Welsh 6; Sutherland 7, Doran 8 (Walsh 82), Chalmers 6 (Harper 67); Mckay 6 (Samuels 76). Subs not used – Ridgers, Hyde.
DUNFERMLINE (4-2-3-1) – Mehmet 6; Todd (Comrie 79), Donaldson, Ambrose (Cole 79), Edwards; Pybus, Chalmers; Lawless (Kamwa 59), Polworth (Todorov 62), Thomas (Dow 62); O’Hara. Subs not used – Archibald, Martin, Breen, Allan.
Referee – Graham Beaton 6
Attendance – 2,171
Man of the match: Reece McAlear