DEFIANT Dundee United manager Mixu Paatelainen refuses to accept his side will be relegated despite their latest defeat to Inverness.

United are close to running out of games to save their season and are eight points shy of Kilmarnock in the play-off spot at the split after goals from Miles Storey and Iain Vigurs.

Paatelainen said: “We’ve had blows during the season and the boys have always picked themselves up. It remains to be seen whether we’ve done too much damage. I can’t answer that.

“Of course mathematically we’ve still got a chance. How much damage this has caused I don’t know but what I do know is that the boys have spirit. They don’t give up. They are disappointed and we need to rest and back in training and make sure the next performance is better.

“Of course, we can win all five remaining games. It’s very unlikely with the way our season has gone but we need to win all five unless we get some other results going for us. At the moment it’s very difficult. Kilmarnock are in a good position.

“We were dead and buried a couple of months ago and recently we have picked up results and reduced the gap but today was a major disappointment.

“But I can’t accept that display, it is as simple as that.”

Inverness manager John Hughes, meanwhile, poured praise on his players after watching them record a comfortable victory.

“Our shape bamboozled Dundee United,” he said. “I brought the players in and changed it after the warm-up. What I was working on during the week – I didn’t fancy it. Jim Jefferies was fantastic at tearing his shape up at the last minute and saying ‘I’ve got a hunch’. Nine times out of 10 he got it right.

“I told Chipper [Brian Rice] that I wasn’t comfortable with what we had worked on in the last two days so we changed it. I put it on the tactics board and change the personnel as we were going to play a four diamond with two up front but we moved to five at the back.”

United knew this was a massive afternoon but still fell behind in 12 minutes to leave them with a mountain to climb.

Caley Thistle’s Ross Draper beat the hosts’ offside trap before squaring to Storey who did the rest from close range to put the Highlanders on the front foot. On 23 minutes Greg Tansey hit a 20-yard shot which United keeper Eiji Kawashima saved at the expense of a corner.

Inverness remained on top after the break although United did threaten briefly as Guy Demel found space eight yards from goal when he hit a left-footed shot which was saved by Inverness keeper Owain Fon Williams.

But their hopes of a comeback were dashed on 50 minutes. United defender Callum Morris headed his attempted clearance from Tansey’s corner straight to Vigurs who from 20 yards out sent home a right-foot shot.

United did threaten to pull one back in 65 minutes when Kevin Knoyle got a brilliant save out of Fon Williams.

From then on, Inverness saw things out, leaving their hosts hoping for a win in next weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final with Hibs to salvage something from the season.