Caley Thistle failed to halt Ayr United from storming back from two goals down to secure a 2-2 draw in a pulsating contest at Somerset Park.
With four games left, it’s a result which moves third-placed ICT to within three points of a play-off spot after Raith Rovers, in fifth, lost 1-0 to Morton.
Shane Sutherland fired Inverness in front early on before a sublime Logan Chalmers goal doubled the score on 14 minutes.
Ayr stemmed the flow for the remainder of the first half and second half goals from Fraser Bryden and Markus Fjortoft earned the Seasiders a share of the spoils as they battle to stay above the bottom two spots.
With Partick Thistle winning 1-0 against Queen of the South last night, it means ICT are one point clear of the Jags with a game to spare, four remaining in total.
ICT have falled nine points away from second-placed Arbroath, with a game in hand, so a runners-up finish now seems a tall order.
MacGregor makes return to bench
Inverness went into this game on the back of wins over Arbroath, Raith Rovers and Dunfermline, returning to action two weeks after beating the Pars 2-0.
Head coach Billy Dodds, unsurprisingly, stuck with the same starting 11 and were bolstered on the bench by returning duo Roddy MacGregor and Danny Devine.
Hosts Ayr had won just one of their last six games, although a last-gasp draw against Hamilton last weekend suggested there’s plenty of fight left in Lee Bullen’s Honest Men.
Ayr welcomed Alex Kenyon back from a two-game, while Sam Ashford came into the line-up. with Daire O’Connor dropping to the bench and Andy Murdoch sidelined through injury.
That said, they were six home matches without a win, so were desperate to score notch a Somerset Park win when needed most.
Early goal ideal start for Inverness
On a sun-kissed afternoon, the visitors started well, forcing a couple of corners, with one falling to Cameron Harper, whose low drive was blocked and cleared gratefully by Ayr.
However, the net was bulging after just seven minutes when Sutherland bagged his 10th goal of the season.
Aaron Doran sprayed the ball out wide right to Mckay and another low pass into the box was tucked away by the forward, who timed his run to perfection.
United looked under pressure and their day worsened when ICT made it 2-0 on 14 minutes.
Doran was the creator when he picked up possession 30 yards out, hooked the ball on to Chalmers and the on-loan Dundee United attacker curled a beauty into the top left corner. He made it look simple and ICT were in control.
Ayr stood firm after that and Ashford was bursting through the middle, only stopped in his tracks by a Wallace Duffy and Robbie Deas.
Mckay was getting plenty of room to attack down the right and, on 32 minutes, his run and cross ended with Doran clipping the ball over the crossbar from 12 yards.
Ayr blast back with Bryden strike
Ayr were fired-up at the start of the second half and Kerr McInroy saw his rasping drive superbly turned away by keeper Cammy Mackay.
However, United were back in the hunt soon after that when from sub Daire O’Connor’s cross, Bryden turned on the spot and guided a fine finish beyond Mackay to halve the deficit.
There was loud appeals for a spot-kick as Ayr upped the pressure as the claims were the ball struck substitute Cameron Harper on the hand. Referee Willie Collum waved away those claims.
It was all Ayr though and McInroy crashed another effort goalwards, this time with too much height as they pressed for a leveller.
The match was all square though with 14 minutes to go when McInroy’s cross was knocked home by sub Fjortoft.
Ayr fans certainly believed their side could pull off an incredible comeback and they were on their feet when Ashford went down in the box, but again, no spot-kick was given.
Both teams went for the winner, with plenty at stake, but for the second time this term, it ended 2-2 in this fixture at Somerset Park.
Next up for ICT is Friday’s home showdown with strong title favourites and leaders Kilmarnock, while Ayr face a crunch trip to survival rivals Dunfermline Athletic on Saturday.
HOW THEY LINED UP
AYR UNITED (4-4-2) – McAdams 6, Houston 6 (Fjortoft 71), Reading 6, McGinty 6 (Baird 88), Muirhead 6, Kenyon 6 (Smith 58), McKenzie 5 (Adeloye 46), McInroy 7, Maxwell 5 (O’Connor 46), Ashford 6, Bryden 6. Subs not used: Albinson (GK), Gondoh, Moffat, Ecrepont.
CALEY THISTLE (4-2-3-1) – Mackay 6, Duffy 6, Welsh 6, Deas 6, Carson 6 (Devine 82), Mckay 7 (Hardy 82), Doran 6 (Harper 46), Sutherland 6, Broadfoot 6, Chalmers 7 (MacGregor 70), McAlear 6 (Samuels 77). Subs not used: Ridgers (GK), Walsh, Hyde.
Referee – Willie Collum.
Attendance – 1756.
Man of the match – Billy Mckay.