Inverness Caledonian Thistle made it three Premiership wins out of three against Dundee United at the Caledonian Stadium this season after sweeping aside the visitors.
Second-half strikes by Josh Meekings, substitute Nick Ross and Gary Warren sealed an impressive victory for the Highland side.
The William Hill Scottish Cup finalists went into the match in confident mood having sealed their place in the Europa League for next season with last weekend’s 1-0 victory at Dundee. However, United were still battling to secure fourth spot in the top flight – a position that would net them a place in Europe, providing Inverness win the cup final against Falkirk.
They started the game in fifth place, a point adrift of St Johnstone who drew with Celtic on Friday night, but in the end were unable to make up any ground as their European hopes took a hit.
The opening exchanges were cagey, but Inverness striker Edward Ofere, who had netted five in his last six games, threatened with a couple of headers from James Vincent crosses in the opening 15 minutes – both flying over the top.
The hosts went close on 33 minutes when Ross Draper slid Graeme Shinnie through on goal, but the full-back skewed his effort wide. Robbie Muirhead lashed a deflected effort over the top from 30 yards two minutes later, the first notable attempt for the visitors.
Hughes’ men then went up the other end for another chance as the game began to come to life, but when John Souttar’s slip allowed Doran to latch onto a Vincent through ball, the Irishman could only side-foot wide. A glorious opportunity then fell to Muirhead after Draper gave the ball away, but Ryan Esson was out sharply to push his shot wide.
United would have been disappointed to go in all-square at the break after squandering another excellent chance as former Inverness man John Rankin shot straight at Esson. The visitors started the second half like they ended the first, and Ciftci tested Esson just a couple of minutes after the restart.
However, United were made to pay for the profligacy as Inverness took a 55th-minute lead when Warren headed Greg Tansey’s corner back across goal and Meekings fired home, despite Muirhead’s efforts to punch it away on the line.
Substitute Marley Watkins almost made it 2-0 but curled his shot just wide of Radoslaw Cierzniak’s upright.
United manager Jackie McNamara brought on Aidan Connolly and Justin Johnson for his debut as he looked to get his side back into the game, and they had a gilt-edged chance to do so on 73 minutes.
Muirhead broke down the left and whipped in a cross for an unmarked Ciftci, but the Turkish striker hit his left-footed volley over the top from 12 yards. Inverness eventually did grab a second and put themselves well in control ten minutes from time, when Ross blasted home from ten yards after Vincent’s shot was initially blocked.
Two minutes later Warren put the gloss on the result when he powered home a towering header from Tansey’s inswinging cross to make it 3-0 and snuff out United’s hopes.
Scorers: Inverness Caledonian Thistle - Meekings 55, Ross 80, Warren 83
ICT: Esson, Meekings, Warren, Devine, Shinnie, Draper, Tansey, Vincent, Christie (Ross 66), Doran (King 84), Ofere (Watkins 59). Subs not used: Tremarco, Williams, Polworth, Mackay. Goals: Meekings 55’; Ross 80’; Warren 83’. Booked: Warren, Devine.
Dundee Utd: Cierzniak (Szromnik 86), Dixon, Fojut, Souttar, Dillon, Telfer, Rankin, Butcher (Connolly 66), Erskine (Johnson 66), Ciftci, Muirhead. Subs not used: Smith, Spittal, Anier, Coote. Booked: Dixon, Erskine.
Referee: C Thomson