Niculae at the double again as gift goals come thick and fast

INVERNESS CT 3 - GRETNA 0

INVERNESS collected their fifth home win in a row, extending their run to seven victories in nine matches. It's an impressive sequence and once again Marius Niculae was crucial to Caley Thistle's fortunes. The burly forward devoured his second brace in the space of a week. It was all over bar the shouting by the break.

"To go in three-up was excellent," said Inverness manager Craig Brewster who saw John Rankin net from the penalty spot. Brewster was delighted with the enthusiasm shown by his team and praised the performance of Niculae who is stacking up the goals in a hurry.

"His first goal was class. He took a great touch and rifled it in. His second was sweet too, a snapshot off the post. He's doing the business for Inverness Caledonian Thistle."

Caley Thistle would have added to their tally had not Gretna's Tony Caig produced some superb saves under pressure. After all that effort required in getting here – their journey north hampered by foul weather – Gretna return down the road with nothing, posting another bad result after their recent rays of hope.

"We've been responsible for our own downfall to an extent," said the Gretna boss Davie Irons. "There were some poor decisions by our players and shirking responsibility when it really mattered. We created chances in the second-half, but that's easy when you're 3-0 down. It's annoying and frustrating."

Gretna started brightly with Kenny Deuchar's snapshot and Inverness' Ian Black had a firm drive saved by Caig. The home side's Dennis Wyness sent a sweet volley towards the corner but that too was stopped by Caig. Responding for Gretna, Henry Makinwa had a go from Gavin Skelton's smart lay-off. David Proctor headed right at the Gretna keeper, while Black guided a header goal-wards but Skelton was able to block that one.

The hosts' best chance so far involved a triple effort. Ross Tokely's shot was cleared off the line and Grant Munro pounced on the rebound only to be denied by Caig. Proctor's subsequent effort was diverted off the crossbar. Makinwa fired wide of Michael Fraser's post and Alan Jenkins clattered an ambitious pot-shot over the crossbar.

Next was the breakthrough. Russell Duncan broke and sprinted deep into the Gretna half. He assessed his options and found Niculae, who collected the ball, glanced up and, from 25 yards, drilled a perfect shot low into the corner of the net. Caley Thistle were awarded a penalty after Chris Innes brought down Niculae and Rankin stepped up to wrong-foot Caig, calmly planting the ball in the corner.

Gretna's Craig Barr responded with a decent shot that Fraser got hold of. Then, Richard Hastings jinked and twisted, before his drive was deflected wide of the upright. As half-time approached, Cowie bashed in a deep corner and Tokely headed it back for Niculae, who delivered a left-foot volley into the net.

The visitors emerged for the second period to confront an extremely difficult task. It was surely beyond them. Niculae was first to have a crack at further extending Inverness' handsome lead. Then Skelton might have scored for Gretna when he faced up to Fraser but the home keeper stood firm to thwart the Gretna man.

Wyness was close with a header as the chances continued to come and Rankin curled a fine one just past Caig's post. Caley Thistle sub Marcus Paatelainen almost got himself on the score-sheet. The cross arrived and Paatelainen, a few yards out, connected with a bold header but Caig somehow tipped it over the target. Gretna fought to the final-whistle for a consolation but a satisfying shut-out was to be Caley Thistle's too.

Inverness CT: Fraser, Tokely, Black, Duncan, Munro, Cowie (Paatelainen 65), Hastings (McBain 74), Niculae (Bayne 77), Wyness, Rankin, Proctor.

Gretna: Caig, Barr, Horwood, Aurelien, Innes, Murray, Skelton, Jenkins (Osman 50), Yantorno, Deuchar, Makinwa.

Referee: D McDonald