Caley Thistle are 90 minutes away from sealing a Europa League place, after coming from behind to defeat Dundee Untied on a night of torrential rain at Caledonian Stadium.
Inverness’ win moves them seven points clear of United with just three games left, with a victory against Dundee at Dens Park on Saturday enough to secure European football for the first time in the club’s 21-year history.
The wet conditions conspired to make life difficult for both sides, with the surface having a huge effect on forward Robbie Muirhead’s long-range opener for the Tangerines. However, Caley Jags gradually settled into the conditions, responding in turn before the break to gain the lead through goals from Edward Ofere and Danny Williams.
Although Caley Jags were in command of the second-half they could not add any further goals, however the result ends their run of nine league matches without a victory.
Inverness came into the match without a league win since their 2-1 victory against St Mirren on February 14. United’s form had also stuttered since the turn of the year, but their 1-0 win against Aberdeen on Saturday – just their second league victory in 11 matches – lodged them firmly on to Caley Thistle’s coat-tails ahead of this encounter.
Inverness made two changes from the side that drew 1-1 at St Johnstone at the weekend, with right back David Raven serving a suspension following his red card, while goalscorer Aaron Doran dropped to the bench. Midfielder Ross Draper returned from a two-match ban, while Danny Devine slotted in at centre half in Raven’s place, with Josh Meekings moving to right back.
Caley Jags manager John Hughes earlier this week described the match as one his side must win in order to remain on track to secure European football at Caledonian Stadium for the first time. However, they got off to the worst possible start, going behind after just two minutes, with the saturated surface having a large part to play in the opener. Devine’s back pass got caught up on its way back to goalkeeper Ryan Esson, who initially did well to meet the ball. However his clearance landed with attacker Muirhead who showed great composure to lift a strike into the net from 35 yards. An early indication of what both sides had to face.
Muirhead continued to look unaffected by the conditions, striking a shot off the angle of the crossbar, before his 20 yard free-kick forced a fine diving save from Esson.
However Inverness appeared to gradually adapt to the conditions as the first-half wore on, with midfielder Greg Tansey’s long-range effort whistling just over, however front two Ofere and Marley Watkins were being starved of supply in dangerous areas.
United remained a threat at the other end, with the ever-lively Muirhead seeing a volley drift wide, before Nadir Ciftci was thwarted by an excellent last-ditch challenge by Draper just as the Turkish attacker went to pull the trigger.
Caley Jags got in behind the visiting defence for the first time on 38 minutes, resulting in the equaliser. Danny Williams slid the ball through to Watkins down the inside left channel, before he unselfishly cut the ball into the middle for Ofere to tuck home his fifth for the club from 10 yards.
The leveller was a timely boost for Inverness, but even better was to follow five minutes later when they took a spectacular lead. The ball was only half-cleared by the United defence, landing perfectly for Williams to chest the ball before volleying high into Radowslaw Cierzniak’s postage stamp corner from 25 yards.
Inverness took their momentum into the second-half, with Watkins’ cross sidefooted wide at the far post by Ofere on 49 minutes, before Watkins glanced a header just wide of the target from Williams’ delivery from the left. Watkins then had the ball in the net on 56 minutes, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
The hosts were bossing the second-half, with Ciftci’s rash effort going harmlessly over in United’s first surge into Inverness’ penalty box.
The match descended into a lull as it wore on, however the hosts were in command of possession and scarcely looked like relinquishing their lead, although it took a fine block from defender Gary Warren to thwart substitute Henri Anier’s goalbound attempt on 86 minutes.
Despite Jackie McNamara’s side applying late pressure, no breakthrough could be found as Inverness held on to claim one of their most important victories of the season.