AARON Doran’s double and Billy Mckay’s clincher brought New Year’s Day joy to one half of the Highlands – as Ross County remained rock bottom.
Scorers: Ross County - Irvine 60; Inverness - Doran 27, 58, Mackay 73
The dominant Inverness Caley Thistle display stopped the rot after their worst run of league defeats in four years.
And it was a thoroughly-deserved three points to boost European ambitions on a day when County and relegation rivals St Mirren both sank deeper into trouble at the foot of the table.
The recent form book might have favoured high-flying Caley Thistle were it not for the small matter of a damaging three-game losing run coming into the big local clash.
Nevertheless, the first-footers from the Highland capital certainly looked a step ahead of their hosts as the first half took shape in the hammering rain.
John Hughes’ men quickly grasped the initiative, creating a couple of early chances.
First, Carl Tremarco pressured Richie Brittain into losing possession on the left flank, crossing for Billy Mckay who could only manage to prod the ball into the side-netting. Then Marley
Watkins released Aaron Doran into space but the Irishman struck well wide.
County were soon clinging on by their fingertips under the early barrage. When Scott Boyd could only head into the path of Mckay as he met a high ball, the Northern Ireland striker turned smartly and struck inches wide from the edge of the box.
With 13 minutes gone, there was a spark of controversy as Mackay neatly controlled a long Josh Meekings ball into the box. Mckay cleverly cut inside marker Boyd and the big County defender clearly held him back as sight of goal beckoned, but referee Steven Mclean waved away protests.
Three minutes later, County skipper Richie Brittain hacked the ball off the line from a fierce Graeme Shinnie strike.
But the breakthrough finally came after 27 minutes – and it was thoroughly deserved for Inverness.
Mckay flicked the ball over his head, Watkins flicked it inside and the waiting Doran needed no second invitation, striking low with venom past the diving Toni Reguero from 15 yards.
County’s discomfort was reflected by an early substitution, Frenchman Yoann Arquin hooked in a straight swap for striker Liam Boyce.
The move enlivened County and the Irishman’s great link-up with Brittain after 37 minutes ended with the County captain going close with a deflected 20-yard dig.
Immediately on the break, Doran and young Christie tore at the hosts’ defence and Mckay’s snapshot was brilliantly parried by Reguero.
Before the interval, manager Jim McIntyre made a second unenforced substitution, on-loan Celtic midfielder Jackson Irvine replacing Canadian international Terry Dunfield.
The pattern of play continued into the second half with County improved but still, often, on the back foot.
McIntyre committed his final substitution before the hour, skipper Brittain sacrificed for striker Jake Jervis.
After 58 minutes, though, County looked in serious trouble. Greg Tansey’s corner was
unconvincingly cleared as it bobbled against a couple of bodies on its path to Doran at the edge of the box.
The Dubliner drilled hard and low into the ruck of bodies and his strike took a cruel deflection past Reguero for the visitors’ second.
County responded by immediately cutting the deficit back to one goal. First substitute Irvine’s shot hit the inside of the post from the right side of the box and was hacked for a corner. From Martin Woods’ delivery, Irvine launched sent a diving header beyond Dean Brill with emphatic ease.
It was getting frantic as David Raven’s strike was parried over the bar for a corner by the outstretched arms of Spaniard Reguero.
It was also getting heated, County’s Slovak Filip Kiss entering the book for a blatant foul and a melée erupting around Irvine and Watkins as they squared up angrily.
County’s hopes of salvaging at least a point faded further after 73 minutes as Caley Thistle struck for the third time.
The dead-ball delivery of Tansey from a free kick caused trouble, defender Gary Warren rising to knock the ball down and Billy Mckay sliding in with classic poacher’s instinct to net from a few yards.
County’s spirit and fight might easily have ebbed but McIntyre’s men kept scrapping for everything, all in vain.
Ross County: Reguero, Saunders, Boyd, P Quinn, Reckord, Kiss, Brittain (Jervis 54), Woods, Dunfield (Irvine 42),Carey, Arquin (Boyce 33). Subs not used: Cardle, Maatsen, Brown, Toshney.
Inverness CT: Brill, Raven, Warren, Meekings, Tremarco, Tansey, Shinnie, Watkins (Vincent 81), Christie (Ross 86), Doran, McKay (Sekajja 88). Subs not used: Esson, Devine, Horner, Williams.