In a season where victories have proven hard to come by, Ross County’s failure to hold on for full points against Hamilton Accies undoubtedly goes down as a missed opportunity.
The Staggies spurned several gilt-edged chances after Liam Boyce’s first-half opener, which ultimately came back to haunt them as Ali Crawford’s sublime free-kick secured what looked an unlikely point for the Lanarkshire side.
Many of those opportunities fell to the feet of substitute Alex Schalk, who simply couldn’t force the ball into the net no matter how hard he tried. On the one occasion he did, he was unfortunate to be wrongly thwarted by an offside flag.
It was the second time this season the Staggies had blown a seemingly commanding 1-0 lead at home, with the same happening against Motherwell in September. These two matches are among just five in which Jim McIntyre’s men have taken the lead this season, with County holding out for victory in the other three.
Even though the win would have been enough to move County into the top-six, there was not the same cause for alarm as there would have been had the same happened just a few weeks ago. Last month’s 1-1 draw against Rangers was the last in a sequence of 10 games without a victory, but should the Staggies take something from Saturday’s game against Hearts it will go down as the first in a run of four without defeat.
All things considered, County’s response to a horrendous October has been a decent one. The biggest low-point was the final game during that month, the 4-1 defeat at Motherwell, but the Dingwall men have shown a mixture of competitive spirit – to work their way back from a goal down against the Gers – and attacking flair in the weeks that have passed since.
It all came together, in a creative sense, in the 4-2 victory at St Johnstone, while it was not fully rewarded in Saturday’s game against Accies. A factor in that may well be Chris Burke, who provided two assists against Saints but missed out against Hamilton due to a viral infection. Burke appears to have quickly become an integral part of McIntyre’s side, but with the former Scotland international again set to miss out against the Jambos this weekend the Staggies will need to look elsewhere for creative influence from the wide areas.
That said, converting rather than creating chances was the issue against Accies. Supporters will be encouraged by the way their side has gone about the last two games against relatively evenly-matched teams though, and with Boyce netting in both matches to take his tally for the season up to eight, they will hope their talismanic forward has rediscovered his ruthlessness in front of goal that can prove decisive in some of their upcoming games.
Second-placed Hearts will present another tough challenge, with the Jambos players showing any uncertainty over the future of their MK Dons-bound head coach Robbie Neilson has not affected them, putting in a thoroughly impressive display in their 2-0 win against Rangers on Wednesday.
County secured a 0-0 draw in their last encounter with the Edinburgh outfit at Tynecastle in October, but McIntyre will be hopeful his side can show more attacking menace in front of their own supporters, in their search of just their second home league win of the campaign.