Caley Thistle and Arbroath could not be split in a 0-0 draw in their Premiership play-off semi-final opener in Inverness.
There were chances for both teams, but neither of the Championship’s top-scoring sides could find a way through here.
The Championship hot-shots finished third and second respectively, with the visitors ending a mere two points behind champions Kilmarnock.
A 2-1 loss at Rugby Park in the penultimate round of fixtures tipped the balance in favour of Derek McInnes’ league winners, as the Angus side were seven points richer than ICT by the end of play.
In the head-to-heads, Inverness enjoyed two wins over the division’s only part-timers, which included the only away success at Gayfield on the opening day of the season when Shane Sutherland struck the only goal.
That result, along with a 0-0 draw there in the New Year, will give the Highlanders confidence ahead of Friday, but there was a job to be done here first.
The mood was good from a Caley Thistle point of view.
A comeback 2-1 victory at Partick Thistle followed by a 1-0 home second leg win on Friday took them into the semi-finals as they aim to be the first club to come from third place to go all the way to the top-flight.
A 3-0 win over Arbroath in March has helped them click into gear, with eight victories in their last 10 games overall taking them this far. That followed an 11-match run without a win.
Home head coach Billy Dodds stuck with the same 11 which got the job done on Friday.
Arbroath’s last game of a remarkable campaign was a 3-0 home victory over Morton on April 29, but with boss Dick Campbell resting nine players that night, most of his big-hitters were in place for this one.
Included in the starters were usual goalkeeper Derek Gaston, midfielder Nicky Low and the league’s top scorer Michael McKenna. There were eight changes overall for the visitors.
The first chance of note went to Arbroath following a slick move as Scott Stewart’s low drive was deflected off Danny Devine for a corner.
Devine had to be alert moments later as his presence was enough to put McKenna off as he sliced his effort wide.
The first Caley Jags’ opportunity came on 27 minutes when Billy Mckay’s drive was deflected wide after Sutherland played him in.
Eight minutes before the break, they had an even better chance as Mckay poked a shot wide after he met a Samuels’ cut-back after Robbie Deas set the forward on the run.
April’s Championship player of the month Logan Chalmers then had a pop from fully 25 yards, but it smashed off the crossbar and Arbroath survived.
Home keeper Ridgers then dived to push wide a swerving free-kick from Low on the cusp of half-time.
Caley Thistle almost got their noses in front eight minutes after the restart when McAlear swept play out to Chalmers and his deflected shot flew out for a corner thanks to Jason Thomson’s intervention.
Just after the hour mark, with a lull in action, Dodds turned to his bench and pitched Aaron Doran into play in place of forward Mckay.
The hosts looked odds-on to open the scoring when Deas played through Chalmers, who steadied himself before guiding the ball just beyond the left-hand post.
Arbroath remained a threat and a low Colin Hamilton ball into the danger area was cut out by Devine.
Samuels sliced a low effort wide then Doran volleyed over the bar for ICT as they reacted with chances of their own.
Ex-Wolves starlet Samuels was snuffed out with another close-range effort just before Braodfoot headed over from the follow-up corner.
The feeling was ICT were the side most likely to make the breakthrough.
There was a flashpoint with 15 minutes to go when McAlear and Thomas O’Brien challenged for the ball and the Arbroath defender went down.
The visitors were furious, claiming for a free-kick, but in fact referee Euan Anderson gave that set-piece to Inverness.
However, time was the winner and it’s all down to leg two at Gayfield this Friday night, with a 7.45pm start.
CALEY THISTLE (4-2-3-1) – Ridgers 6, Welsh 6, Deas 6, Devine 7, Carson 6, Mckay 6 (Samuels 62), Sutherland 6 (Harper 71), Broadfoot 6, Chalmers 7 (Hardy 78), McAlear 6, Samuels 6. Subs not used – MacKay (GK), Duffy, Allardice, Hyde.
ARBROATH (4-1-3-2) – Gaston 6, Thomson 6, Colin Hamilton 6, Little 6, O’Brien 6, Low 7 (Henderson 84), McKenna 6, Stewart 6, Chris Hamilton 6, Jack Hamilton 6 (Donnelly 84), Craigen 6. Subs not used – Antell (GK), Gold, Swankie, Linn, Ford, Bakare, Wighton
Referee – Euan Anderson.
Attendance – 2201.
Man of the match – Danny Devine.