AARON Doran’s vital winner last night deepened Dundee United’s gloom and anxiety and set cup-winning Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s sights on a late season surge back into promotion contention after their 1-0 triumph.

Victory lifted John Robertson’s side above Falkirk on goal difference and cut the gap on the Tangerines to 11 points with a game in hand.

More significantly, it sliced the gap on play-off contenders Morton to 12 points, with three games in hand for the Highlanders offering a route back into the hunt.

United, with just one win in the last eight outings, sank deeper into damaging form.

After seven minutes, Scott Fraser’s pass deflected kindly into Scott McDonald’s path but the Aussie striker shot straight at keeper Mark Ridgers.

Chances were sparse and creativity thin on the ground, but a massive Coll Donaldson free-kick from deep created a home opportunity after 17 minutes. 

Nathan Austin’s pace took him away from the United defence but the connection on his header was weak and easily gathered by Harry Lewis.

An incredible Caley Thistle miss followed after 22 minutes.

Another terrific turn of pace from ex-Falkirk attacker Austin set him free to the right of the United box and his chipped attempt beat keeper Lewis and may have been going in.

Caley Thistle striker George Oakley met it with his head two yards out – and somehow skied the finish over the bar. Just as the first half seemed to be petering out, the hosts found the breakthrough a minute before the break.

Oakley peeled free of his marker to the right and slipped a clever wee disguised pass into the path of Aaron Doran to fire in low off the keeper’s body.

United boss Laszlo brought on Matthew Smith for the ineffective Thomas Mikkelsen at the break, but the hosts were soon back on the front foot.

Liam Polworth’s pass had Austin tearing through on the right but Edjenguele’s fine saving challenge threw the Caley Thistle frontman off-balance – and left the Frenchman writhing and requiring treatment.

Sixteen year-old Daniel MacKay, fresh from a goal in Scotland’s victory against England schoolboys and a cup final assist, entered the fray after the hour – and almost scored two minutes later.

Twisting onto his right foot on the left side of the box, MacKay’s fierce, angled strike drew a fine parry for a corner from keeper Lewis. 

The hosts might have sealed it 11 minutes from time as they went through three-on-two on United, but when Oakley threaded a short pass wide for young MacKay his strike was shut down superbly by the diving Lewis.

Laszlo seemed to question his side’s desire to improve their poor form. 
He said: “We are trying everything to change this run and the players need to answer that question. 

“We had an opportunity tonight to move forward but it looked like Inverness wanted to be in the play-offs and we were happy just to be playing.

“We’ve got Morton coming up and we have a problem. I want to see more energy and when we’re bringing players in to make them fresh mentally they have to show it. We can talk all we want but no-one will give us a gift.

“We have to show the desire and the will to win the game. We can talk about lack of quality or confidence forever, but the only way to get it back is by winning games and, with so many games coming up, we have the an opportunity to bring it back.”