A GUTSY and battling performance earned Hearts a point in the Highlands, although they largely had goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald to thank.
His saves repeatedly denied Inverness, who struck the frame of the goal on four occasions during the first 45 minutes.
Hearts rallied after the interval with attempts by Jamie Hamill and Paul McCallum on his first start, but they would not be disappointed to leave with a draw. After losing on penalties to Inverness in the League Cup semi-final two weeks ago, this was a chance to atone. They managed that and reduced the gap at the foot of the Premiership to 16 points in the process.
The only noteworthy moment from a quiet opening at the Caledonian Stadium started with David Raven’s clipped effort which rebounded off the Hearts crossbar. Billy McKay tried to hook the rebound home but the Hearts captain Danny Wilson did enough to block his attempt.
Moments later, Gary Warren headed Graeme Shinnie’s corner over the bar as Inverness began asserting themselves. MacDonald was forced into an acrobatic save to hold Greg Tansey’s flying header following Marley Watkins’ impressive driving run and cross. The Hearts goalkeeper then blocked at point-blank range to deny McKay.
When Jordan McGhee cleared a Watkins shot virtually off his own goal line after a fine passing move by Inverness, it seemed inevitable that Hearts’ resistance would be breached before half-time. The hosts hit the crossbar twice in seconds through Watkins’ header and McKay’s overhead attempt, with MacDonald credited with an important fingertip touch on the first of those two efforts.
Two minutes before the break, Inverness struck woodwork for the fourth time in this match. Tansey’s first-time shot following a half-clearance thumped off the MacDonald’s right post. Somehow, the visitors’ goal remained in tact and they reached the interval without conceding.
Perhaps understandably, the home team struggled to maintain the same momentum in the second half and Hearts began finding space in midfield. After a neat interchange with Dale Carrick, Hamill dispatched a 25-yard effort just off target. Ryan Stevenson also tried his luck from distance with a shot which the Inverness goalkeeper Dean Brill fisted back out.
The hosts did mount an attack on 67 minutes when ended with a rasping 25-yard drive by Tansey, which MacDonald tipped past the post at full stretch. That seemed to restore their confidence and they began pressing forward once more.
Hearts broke twice through Sam Nicholson as the closing stages approached. He teed up Hamill on both occasions but his efforts, although lacking nothing in power, finished off target. A downward header from McCallum was cleared by Graeme Shinnie in the dying seconds.
Despite the late probing, a winner did not materialise as those in maroon held out to take a point back to Edinburgh.
Inverness CT (4-2-3-1): Brill; Raven, Warren, Meekings, Shinnie; Draper, Tansey; Watkins, Vincent (Foran 73), Doran; McKay. Subs: Esson, Ross, Devine, Tremarco, Williams, Polworth.
Hearts (4-4-2): MacDonald; McGowan, McKay, Wilson, McGhee; Stevenson, Hamill, Robinson, Nicholson; Carrick (King 73), McCallum. Subs: Ridgers, Holt, Oliver, Beith.
Referee: Craig Thomson.