INVERNESS Caledonian Thistle’s improbable Scottish Cup run continued tonight as they claimed a second Premiership scalp in as many games and booked their place in the semi-finals.

The Highlanders are only in the competition because Queen’s Park, their conquerors in the fourth round, were thrown out by the SFA for fielding an ineligible player last month.

But they have certainly grasped their unexpected opportunity firmly with both hands; they overcame Livingston at the Tony Macaroni Stadium last month and came from behind to defeat Kilmarnock at the Caledonian Stadium 2-1 this evening.

A first-half Billy McKay penalty and a Sean Welsh strike in the second made their followers glad they had braved the wintry conditions.

Having announced annual losses of £835,751 last week, the Championship club’s progress to the last four is certainly timely. Could they go ballistic once again and repeat their 2015 triumph? Nothing can be ruled out.  

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It was a painful loss for their opponents and then some. But the Rugby Park outfit could have no complaints about the outcome at the end of the 90 minutes. Derek McInnes’s men were second best for most of the evening. They very much looked like a side fighting for their Premiership survival.

McInnes welcomed back both Kyle Vassell, who had been suspended for the meeting with Rangers at Ibrox last weekend, and Lewis Mayo, who had been unable to feature against his parent club, up front and in defence respectively.

Elsewhere, Liam Donnelly, who had not been able to play in Govan due to injury, returned as Ryan Alebiosu, Jeriel Dorsett and Alan Power dropped to the bench. But freshening up his starting line-up made no tangible impact on their performance level.  

Kilmarnock’s away form in the 2022/23 campaign has been dire; going into the match tonight they had picked us just two wins on the road since July.

But those results had come against Hearts at Tynecastle in the League Cup and Dundee United at Tannadice in the Scottish Cup and the visitors, the only team in the top flight not to triumph on the road, were hopeful they could make it a hat-trick.

Playing in the frozen north on a Friday night due to the match being screened live on the BBC was far from ideal for them. Still, a travelling support of around 800 made the long journey up the A9 to cheer on their heroes and the away fans were in fine voice as proceedings got underway.    

They had an early goal to celebrate. Ash Taylor and his team mates took the lead with their first attack in just the second minute. Danny Armstrong curled in a corner, Donnelly rose and flicked the delivery on and David Carson turned the ball into his own net off Vassell.

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Billy Dodds, who made one change to the team which came from behind to beat Ayr United at Somerset Park in the league last Saturday and brought Cameron Harper in for Zak Delaney at left back, would have been delighted with his charges’ response to the setback.

Caley Thistle looked by far the more dangerous team after falling behind. McKay forced a save from Sam Walker and Welsh hit the crossbar. They deserved to draw level in the 24th minute after Joe Wright handled a Wallace Duffy cross inside his own area. McKay made no mistake from the penalty spot.

Jay Henderson should have put the hosts in front shortly after the equaliser after McKay split the Kilmarnock defence wide open with a through ball. But the St Mirren loanee shot straight at Walker when he only had the keeper to beat.    

Liam Polworth hobbled off injured just before half-time after Robbie Deas had dispossessed him and was replaced by Power. His manager was far from happy with the challenge. But referee David Dickinson took no action.

McInnes had to do something to get Kilmarnock back into the game in the second-half. He put on Jordan Jones out wide for the ineffectual Christian Doidge. But the change made no difference to proceedings whatsoever.

Henderson hit the post soon after play restarted and Inverness took the lead when Welsh pounced on a Mayo clearance and fired beyond Walker from fully 30 yards out. It proved to be enough to get them through.