Inverness 2 – 1 Kilmarnock
Inverness Caledonian Thistle booked a trip to Hampden by coming from behind to see off Kilmarnock 2-1 to seal their spot in the Scottish Cup semi-finals.
Kyle Vassell gave Killie a third-minute lead, bundling the ball over the line following a corner, but Billy Mckay replied from the penalty spot a little more than 20 minutes later.
Sean Welsh then stepped up early in the second half to make the decisive breakthrough which earned the cinch Championship hosts a spot in the last four at the expense of their Premiership opponents.
How Inverness booked a trip to Hampden…
The visitors, with just two away wins since August, got off to the perfect start in the Highland capital with an early goal.
Danny Armstrong’s corner was flicked on by Liam Donnelly and Vassell appeared to get the final touch to force the ball over the line.
The Caley Jags took a while to settle into the game but once they did they created the better opportunities.
Mckay, sent through by Welsh, tried to head the ball over Sam Walker in Kilmarnock’s goal, only to be denied.
Then Jay Henderson picked out Welsh in the middle, with the Inverness captain’s header clipping the bar on its way over.
The home side would get back into the game from the penalty spot, though, as Joe Wright was guilty of handling Wallace Duffy’s low cross into the middle – with Mckay stepping up to convert.
Mckay very nearly turned creator shortly afterwards, finding Henderson who had broken Killie’s offside trap only to produce a tame effort that was easily saved by Walker.
Inverness maintained their momentum after the restart, with Henderson being denied by the post when a low drive from a narrow angle very nearly found a way into the bottom corner.
Seconds later, though, Welsh went one better, beating Walker from 25 yards out and putting the home side ahead.
Caley Thistle generally remained in control of the game after that, even if they looked more nervous as the clock ticked down.
Their instinct was to drop deeper and deeper, which at one stage allowed Armstrong the chance to shoot at the edge of the box – but he did not come close to the target.
Inverness were able to hold out and ensure their involvement in Monday evening’s semi-final draw.
What the managers said…
Inverness boss Billy Dodds: “I said we’d love to help (with the club’s financial situation) but I didn’t want to burden the players with it and it will certainly help on that front.
“I know the figure that came out but I don’t know what the finances are – but it will certainly help them.
“I had a hug with the chairman (Ross Morrison) afterwards, it was his birthday.
“I told him to enjoy the Livingston game and then I told him to enjoy tonight – and I’ll tell him to enjoy the semi now too.
“I don’t know if the semis are still pooled so it doesn’t matter about getting a money-spinner.
“There’s a route there to get to the final but Ayr or Falkirk will want us too.”
Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes: “I thought we were second best. Inverness wanted it more than us and that is always a sad indictment of a team.
“It is never easy for a manager to accept that and say it but the truth was Inverness were, hands-down, more energetic than us and had more desire about them.
“What we have found is when we have lost the first goal on the road we have lost confidence but that shouldn’t have been the case tonight.
“The penalty was harsh on us and I thought we could have had one ourselves, but the better team won tonight. The team who deserved it won.”
The semi-final draw for the Scottish Cup will take place on Monday night.
Kilmarnock return to Scottish Premiership action on 18 March at home to St Johnstone. Kick-off 3pm.