Paul McMullan smashed home the rebound to make it advantage Dundee United in this Premiership semi-final.
McMullan was the Tangerines’ star man against Inverness Caley Thistle and deserved to be the hero after showing some quick-thinking to react after substitute Nicky Clark had hit the post on 78 minutes.
It is now on to Tannadice for the second leg on Friday night and McMullan’s goal is likely to be crucial over the whole tie.
ICT played all but three minutes of the second half at the Caledonian Stadium with only 10 men after Liam Polworth was shown a straight red card for kicking United’s Mark Connolly in the head.
United struggled at times to make the extra man count but they got there in the end thanks to McMullan.
The Tangerines made no fewer than six changes to the team that kicked off against Morton 11 days previously.
Out went Ross Laidlaw, Charlie Seaman, Callum Booth, Sam Stanton, Logan Chalmers and Cammy Smith.
In came Benjamin Siegrist, Jamie Robson, Paul Watson, Ian Harkes, Peter Pawlett and McMullan.
It had been a glorious day in the Highland capital and a large United support had made the trip north.
Around 1,000 gathered behind one goal and they were the ones creating all the noise as the game kicked off.
The Tannadice side had Osman Sow up front along with Pawlett supporting, with Pavol Safranko operating on the left and McMullan on the right.
On three minutes, ICT’s Polworth drilled a cross over from the right and United goalie Benjamin Siegrist was unconvincing when cutting it out and it had to be cleared.
United moved upfield, though, and Sow threaded a nice pass through for Safranko but he couldn’t reach it.
There was an excellent chance for the visitors on nine minutes when Sow nutmegged Coll Donaldson and shot with his left foot. Inverness keeper Mark Ridgers got a hand to it and it was enough to keep it out.
The Swede had started well but it was Inverness player Joe Chalmers who threatened next with a 25-yard half-volley that flew past the post on 17 minutes.
United were getting penalised for blocking at corner kicks and manager Robbie Neilson was making his view known to fourth official Steven Kirkland.
On 23 minutes, the hosts came within the width of the woodwork of the opener when Chalmers floated a cross from the left that was met by Jordan White’s head and smacked the inside of United’s post.
Two minutes later, goalie Siegrist almost sold the jerseys when he raced out of goal and hit Aaron Doran with his clearance. The loose ball spun towards White, who then played in Polworth but United somehow escaped.
To their credit, the visitors hit back and McMullan pounced inside the box and smashed a shot that Ridgers kept out at his near post.
Safranko clipped a strike inches wide of the ICT post and Ian Harkes just failed to connect with a cross across the face of goal as United rallied.
McMullan then sent over a brilliant delivery to the back post on the half-hour that was headed goalwards by Paul Watson but cleared off the line by the body of Jamie McCart.
On 36 minutes, White got his head on another cross but Siegrist, almost in slow motion, plucked the ball out of the air.
A couple of minutes later, Donaldson was booked for a terrible foul on Pawlett just inside the ICT half.
On the stroke of half-time, United defender Connolly headed wide of the far post to keep the scoreline goalless.
United made a switch at the break as Callum Booth replaced Safranko, who had been ill before the match.
There was drama just three minutes after the restart when Polworth was shown a straight red card for kicking United defender Connolly in the head. It was a borderline booking but the Highlanders were left with only 10 men and 42 minutes to play.
The Tangerines, shooting towards their own fans, had a chance on 58 minutes when Sow headed McMullan’s cross into the arms of Ridgers.
United weren’t taking full advantage of the 11 v 10 match-up and they made a change on 68 minutes as Sow was replaced by Nicky Clark.
Sub Booth had a go from 20 yards out on 70 minutes as the visitors struggled to keep the tempo up.
They nearly opened the scoring on 76 minutes when sub Clark was played in by a superb Pawlett pass but Ridgers did really well to save his low shot.
Two minutes later, the Tangerines finally upped their game and grabbed a crucial goal.
Clark pounced after a poor defensive header from McHattie. He smacked his strike off the post and McMullan was there to smash home the rebound.
With just two minutes to go, United sub Cammy Smith, who had replaced hero McMullan, broke clear but tried to chip Ridgers and his attempt cleared the bar.
United could still be well happy with the scoreline but they are only halfway there.
Inverness CT: Ridgers, Rooney, Chalmers, Donaldson, McCart, Polworth, Doran (Harper 72), White, Mckay, Trafford, McHattie. Subs not used: MacKay, McCauley, McDonald, MacGregor, Gunn.
Dundee United: Siegrist, McMullan (C. Smith 85), Sow (Clark 68), Safranko (Booth 46), Robson, Butcher, Reynolds, Watson, Harkes, Pawlett, Connolly. Subs not used: Laidlaw, Frans, M. Smith, Bouhenna.
Referee: Nick Walsh.