Motherwell crashed to a poor 3-0 defeat at the Caledonian Stadium, blasting the race for a top-six spot wide open.
Shane Sutherland gave the hosts the lead midway through the first half with a blistering left-footed effort from just inside the area.
It remained that way until former ‘Well hero Richie Foran capitalised on some slack defending to put his side into a commanding two-nil lead with twenty-five minutes left to play.
Substitute Alex MacDonald rounded off the win with a third eight minutes later to give Terry Butcher’s men their first league win over ‘Well for nearly four years.
‘Well boss Stuart McCall made just one change from the side that beat Celtic last Sunday. Chris Humphrey had to be content with a place amongst the substitutes, his place taken by Francis Jeffers who played up-front beside Sutton with Murphy in behind.
Inverness came out the traps looking like a team who were desperate to bounce back from their disappointing defeat during the week. And they almost took the lead after just six minutes when, after Nick Ross’ teasing cross from the left, Richie Foran teed up Russell Duncan but the midfielders deflected low shot was expertly saved by the ever-dependable Darren Randolph.
Motherwell were struggling to get a foothold in the game so it was little surprise when the home side took the lead. Adam Rooney and Ross combined on the edge of the area before the ball eventually found Sutherland on the inside left channel. The youngster did brilliantly well to turn inside Steven Hammell before crashing an unstoppable effort high into the top left hand corner leaving Randolph helpless.
Inverness continued to attack, looking for a second and they almost got it when Sutherland got on the end of a Foran cross from the right, but his header dropped wide of the post with Hammell doing just enough to put the striker off.
After thirty odd minutes of Caley dominance, McCall’s men appeared to awake from their slumber and finished the half the stronger.
Ross Forbes put the away teams’ first testing ball into the box after 34 minutes and Ryan Esson looked far from comfortable when coming to collect, but he was bailed out by Iain Brines’ whistle, the experienced official spotting a push inside the six-yard box.
Four minute later, Motherwell cut Caley wide open when Keith Lasley rolled in John Sutton. With Esson rushing off his line, the big Englishman managed to slide and get a shot away but the Caley keeper did just about enough to block and the chance was gone.
Sutton was again on hand shortly after when he met a Forbes corner from the left but his looping header dropped just over the bar.
You felt then Motherwell had to score next if they were to get back in the game and, despite a decent enough chance for Francis Jeffers at the back post, Caley remained in the lead.
As Motherwell pushed and pushed for a leveller, Inverness were looking likely on the break and almost doubled their advantage when Ross latched onto a Lee Cox pass, but Hammell managed to scamper back into position and thwarted the midfielder with an excellent block.
However, it was a sign of things to come as Butcher’s men grabbed the vital second after 64 minutes. Nick Ross combined with Adam Rooney who managed to spring the offside trap. The Irishman shaped to shoot but pulled it across goal for Richie Foran who poked home from six yards despite the attention of Shaun Hutchinson.
It looked like an insurmountable lead but Motherwell could and should have made the last twenty minutes at least nervy for the Highlanders when substitute Chris Humphrey passed up a golden opportunity to haul his side back into the game.
Jamie Murphy’s high, hanging cross towards the back post fell kindly to the Jamaican-born winger whose shot was blocked by Esson. It rebounded back to 23-year-old and it looked certain he’d smash home but his effort was somehow blocked on the line by Ross Tokely; how much the veteran defender knew about it was unsure.
McCall continued to commit men forward and they were punished when substitute Alex MacDonald added a third only a minute after coming on. Foran was again involved, somehow managing to get a cross in from the left flank despite and that looked to have caught Gavin Gunning by surprise and his hesitation was punished by the Scotland U21 striker who ruthlessly slammed home from close range.
‘Well continued to press and Jeffers and Murphy both went close to grabbing a consolation but nothing was forthcoming, and the Claret and Amber men faced the long journey down the road knowing the fight for the top six will now, most probably, go right to the final day.
[tab:As it happened]
Alan Burrows at The Caledonian Stadium
Full Time – Inverness CT 3 – 0 Motherwell
76mins – Signal has gone – wish it had stayed off to be honest. We’re 3-0 down goals from Foran and sub MacDonald have put Caley out of site 🙁
Attendance is 3563!
58mins – Good ball from Murphy on the left flank just misses Jeffers as Inverness knock it out for a corner.
57mins – Saunders on for Hateley.
55mins – Humphrey on for Forbes.
48mins – Great chance for ‘Well at the start of the second half. Cross finds Forbes at the back post. Both his and Jeffers effort blocked.
46mins – Second half gets underway! C’mon the ‘Well!
Half Time – ICT 1 – 0 Motherwell. Inverness started better and got ahead. ‘Well battled back as the half wore on but Caley still lead.
40mins – Corner from Forbes is met by Sutton at the back post but his header is just over. Better from ‘Well though!
39mins – Another ‘Well chance – cross from Hateley is flicked on by Jeffers for Sutton but his half volley goes miles over the bar.
38mins – Neat throughball from Lasley to Sutton gives the big striker a half chance but his sliding effort is saved well by Esson.
34mins – Forbes free kick deep into the box has Esson in trouble but he is saved by the referee’s whistle after Iain Brines spotted a foul.
28mins – Foran cross from the left flank is met by Sutherland but his header is way wide. Hammell managed to put him off with the jump…
18mins – Out of nothing Inverness take the lead. Rooney and Cox combine to set up Sutherland on the flank. He cuts inside and smashes home!
GOAL Inverness! Shane Sutherland
14mins – Free kick by Forbes just misses Hutchinson and Sutton inside the area. That’s the first time ‘Well have been in the area!
13mins – Slow start to the game here. Game is being played in glorious subshine though… Makes looking at the laptop difficult though.
6mins – Ross cross from the right for Foran. Teed up for Duncan who struck a stinging low drive that is well saved by Randolph.
1mins – We kick off at ICT – Wee bit late actually!
Motherwell manager Stuart McCall:
“We were so poor at the beginning of the game, with our possession of the ball.
“The weather was nice, the pitch seemed in good condition and was there to play football and we played the shape we had at Aberdeen to get the players onto the ball and to get the ball into the right areas of the park.
“But our possession of the ball was really poor. Then, in the second half, we lost two soft goals. From beginning to end, from back to front, we were so sub-standard.”
Inverness CT manager Terry Butcher:
“We gave the boys a bit of a savaging on Tuesday and they took that on board and said a few things on Wednesday.
“From that moment on, they knew what they had to do. It was a case of making sure everyone was totally committed.
“They showed that today and we could have scored a few more.”