Young striker Calum Elliot got Hearts back to winning ways in the SPL with a double in the Highlands. The Jambos had been trounced 4-0 by Rangers at Tynecastle in midweek, but they bounced back at the Caledonian Stadium in style, with Scotland Under-21 forward Elliot bagging his first league goals in more than two years.
Caretaker manager Stephen Frail wanted a reaction after their showing against the Ibrox men. And, after an edgy start, the visiting players responded with a polished display, albeit against a home team with just one win from their previous eight league matches.
Despite enjoying some sustained spells of pressure, the hosts were only able to direct one shot towards goal and even then, Russell Duncan’s 13th-minute effort from distance rose well over the crossbar.
The visitors were finding it difficult to create anything in attack, hampered by playing into a strong wind, but striker Christian Nade engineered room for a low shot, which goalkeeper Michael Fraser did well to tip away to safety.
Fraser was left floundering at the resulting corner though as he missed Andy Driver’s delivery, allowing the unmarked Greek defender Christos Karipidis to head into an empty net from close range.
Caley were struggling to cope with the physical presence of Nade and the clever running and pace of players such as Elliot, Saulius Mikoliunas and Driver.
Elliot drove a searing shot over the bar from 25 yards out, but he found his bearings soon after. Strike partner Nade made a surging run which began with a cute nutmeg on Grant Munro. The powerful striker then flicked the ball past Russell Duncan’s attempted sliding tackle and proceeded to knock a cross to Elliot, who steered the ball low into the corner.
Thistle rallied at the close of the first half and Romanian striker Marius Niculae headed over when well placed before hooking Ross Tokely’s driven cross wide from another promising position with visiting keeper Steve Banks untroubled.
Within two minutes of the restart Caley Thistle’s hopes of trying to take a point from the game were no longer, as a blunder from Ian Black gifted Hearts a third goal. The midfielder’s terrible attempted back-pass lacked the required pace and Elliot intercepted. Some desperate defending stopped the initial danger, but when the ball broke back to Elliot he calmly clipped a neat effort over the stranded Fraser to score in style.
Fraser later made an acrobatic save to keep out a thumping volley from Ruben Palazuelos and Elliot squandered a good chance for a hat-trick when he headed wide.
Inverness: M Fraser, R Tokely, P McGuire, G Munro, R Hastings, D Imrie, I Black (D Proctor, 73), R Duncan, D Cowie (R McAllister, 83), M Paatelainen (D Wyness, 45), M Niculae. Subs not used: R McBain, I Vigurs, Z Malkowski, G Kerr.
Hearts: S Banks, R Neilson, H Karipidis, C Berra, L Wallace, S Mikoliunas (F Screpis, 72), E Jonsson, R Palazuelos, A Driver (K Ivaskevicius, 64), C Nade (R Beniusis), C Elliot. Subs not used: M Zaliukas, I Tall, M Ridgers, G Glen.
Referee: A Freeland.