Caley Thistle’s hopes of a top-six finish were all but ended following a dramatic late 2-1 loss against Motherwell at Caledonian Stadium.
Inverness looked to be on course for at least a point after Iain Vigurs’ penalty levelled Lionel Ainsworth’s opener, however the Steelmen nicked the win deep into stoppage time courtesy of Marvin Johnson’s goal on the counter-attack.
The result leaves Inverness four points adrift of sixth-placed Dundee with just two games left before the split, leaving their hopes of a top-six finish very slim.
Caley Thistle signed off for the international break with an impressive 3-0 Highland derby victory against Ross County last month, with manager John Hughes making one enforced change from the team that lined up that day. Midfielder Greg Tansey was suspended, meaning a recall for Andrea Mbuyi-Mutombo.
Motherwell came into the match on an excellent run of form, having racked up four straight victories. The Steelmen were able to call upon skipper Keith Lasley following a dead leg, with the experienced midfielder replacing Jack Leitch.
Inverness enjoyed the better of the play throughout the first-half, with their first opportunity coming when Liam Polworth drove a shot just over from inside the box, while Liam Hughes saw his header from a Carl Tremarco delivery well held by goalkeeper Connor Ripley.
The Steelmen came close to an opener on 33 minutes, when Steven Hammell’s free-kick was glanced just wide of the post by the head of leading scorer Louis Moult.
Inverness’ best chance of the opening half came just before the interval, when Miles Storey flicked Mbuyi-Mutombo’s cross just wide.
Following a slow start to the second-half by both sides, Motherwell went ahead on 62 minutes courtesy of a cheaply conceded goal by the hosts. Goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams flapped at Marvin Johnson’s delivery from the left, palming the ball straight to the feet of Moult, who in turn played the ball back to Ainsworth, whose mis-hit attempt looped over Fon Williams and somehow crept in under the bar.
It was a blow for the home side, but they were handed a lifeline just eight minutes later when Ross Draper was felled by Lasley inside the box, allowing Vigurs to coolly slot home the leveller against his former club from the spot.
Caley Jags had most of the late pressure in the search for a winning goal, but from a corner of their own, following which Carl Tremarco’s cut-back was cleared to safety by Stephen McManus, Motherwell broke with Johnson being released on the break by Ainsworth, and with Fon Williams committed to meeting him, the midfielder slotted the ball home to seal the points right at the death.