Cove Rangers rounded off their Premier Sports Cup group campaign with an excellent 3-1 victory over Championship side Caley Thistle.
Paul Hartley’s men went into the match with no prospect of qualifying for the knock-out stages, having fallen to defeat in their opening three Group A matches.
The Aberdeen outfit rounded off the campaign in style however, with first half goals from Leighton McIntosh and Mitch Megginson, as well as a late effort from Blair Yule, giving them a huge boost ahead of their League One opener at home to Falkirk next Saturday.
The defeat came as a further setback for Caley Thistle, leaving their prospects of qualifying highly unlikely.
Inverness came into the match realistically needing at least five points from their final two matches in order to qualify, after drawing 2-2 with Stirling Albion before falling short in the penalty shoot-out.
They will now face their toughest test in the section when they travel to newly-promoted Premiership side Hearts on Sunday.
Billy Dodds made six changes, with Mark Ridgers, Wallace Duffy, Robbie Deas, Reece McAlear, Scott Allardice and Aaron Doran drafted in. Among those who dropped out, skipper Sean Welsh and David Carson were sidelined through injury.
Cove continued to be light in numbers, with a squad of just 14 for the visit of their Championship opponents. Of the side which went down 3-1 to Peterhead on Saturday, defenders Scott Ross and Daniel Higgins were sidelined, which meant former Caley Jags midfielder Ross Draper deputised as a centre half.
The hosts started brightly, creating the game’s first chance on six minutes when a deep cross by Harry Milne was nodded over by Fraser Fyvie. Inverness were nearly gifted the breakthrough four minutes later when Draper’s mistake was pounced upon by Manny Duku, however the Dutchman was thwarted by a last-ditch block on the line by Morgyn Neill.
Caley Jags goalkeeper Ridgers was called into action for the first time on 20 minutes when he did well to claw McIntosh’s effort just past the post following Iain Vigurs’ corner. At the other end, Duku powered a drive into the side-netting after being played in by Doran.
The game continued to flow from end to end, with McIntosh seeing another effort well gathered by Ridgers moments later.
McIntosh was not to be denied on 35 minutes however, with Fyvie’s through ball releasing the former Dundee player to send a fine cushioned finish past Ridgers.
Cove inflicted further punishment on Inverness just four minutes later, with Leitch sending a ball over the top for Megginson, who went through on goal before clinically drilling low past Ridgers.
Megginson’s strike meant Inverness were tasked with clawing back a two-goal deficit for the second successive game, but the visitors had chances to respond before the break, with Shane Sutherland blazing over and Duku seeing an effort thwarted by Gourlay.
Cove brought on Broque Watson to replace home debutant Leitch at the interval as Inverness continued in their efforts to get back into the game, but Cameron Harper blazed high over from distance after being set up from a short corner.
It was the hosts who came closest to adding, with Vigurs seeing a free-kick blocked behind, while Connor Scully saw a superb effort from the edge of the box tipped over by Ridgers.
Dodds looked to freshen up his side as the second half wore on, with Tom Walsh and Roddy MacGregor brought on to replace Michael Gardyne and Allardice.
Substitute Tom Walsh had the Highlanders’ best chance of the second half when his effort from a Duku cutback was destined for goal, before Harry Milne scrambled the ball to safety on the line.
There was still time for Cove to add a third, with Yule scrambling home from close-range after Watson had seen his initial effort blocked.
Inverness salvaged a late consolation when Duku netted from the spot, after Roddy MacGregor was felled by Draper.