Ross County fell to a shock 2-1 defeat against St Mirren in a match they dominated throughout.
The Staggies took a first-half lead thanks to Martin Woods’ penalty on the half hour mark, however Stephen Mallan levelled with a deflected effort from the edge of the box, which came very much against the run of play.
County passed up several opportunities to regain the lead in the second-half when Saints won a last minute penalty as Mark Brown hauled down Buddies substitute Lewis Morgan inside the box, resulting in Brown’s dismissal, with Steven Thompson tucking away the penalty.
The result means Motherwell – who occupy the relegation play-off position – are now just three points behind the Staggies with only two games left to play.
County manager Jim McIntyre made one change from the side that drew 1-1 with Motherwell the previous weekend, with Italian midfielder Raffaele De Vita dropping to the bench in place of Tony Dingwall.
Saints’ relegation to the Championship was confirmed by Motherwell’s 3-1 win against Kilmarnock on Friday night, with manager Gary Teale’s only change from the side defeated 3-0 by Partick Thistle last weekend to bring in Alan Gow for Kieran Sadlier.
Saints goalkeeper Mark Ridgers nearly gave his former team a gift inside just four minutes when he slipped as he went to clear the ball, with the Buddies defence quick to mop up before Craig Curran could nip in to score.
Liam Boyce looked lively in the early stages, hooking an effort wide before nodding Marcus Fraser’s delivery past the post. It was one-way traffic, with Dingwall trying his luck from long-range on 23 minutes, shooting straight down the throat of Ridgers.
The Staggies were given the perfect chance to take the lead on the half hour mark when Boyce was hacked to the ground by Sean Kelly inside the box, leaving referee Steven McLean no choice but to award the penalty. Martin Woods stepped up to fire it superbly into Ridgers’ top left corner, giving County the breakthrough.
County could have doubled the lead moments later when Jason Naismith blocked Curran’s close-range shot. However Boyce ought to have doubled the hosts’ lead on 38 minutes when Woods played in Dingwall down the left, with his low cross sidefooted over by County’s leading scorer.
The Staggies’ missed chances came back to bite them, with Saints grabbing an equaliser completely against the run of play on 39 minutes, when Mallan struck from 20 yards, his effort taking a wicked deflection off Scott Boyd to wrongfoot goalkeeper Mark Brown.
The equaliser was a blow for County, but they could have regained the lead when Boyce headed over from Jamie Reckord’s cross.
Midfielder Jackson Irvine headed marginally wide from a corner early in the second-half, while Dingwall flashed a shot just over from Boyce’s cut-back.
County appealed for a penalty on 65 minutes, with Irvine claiming his shot from point-blank range came off the arm of Kelly. However the Australian should have done much better with his next effort, nodding a free header over the top from Reckord’s delivery. The hosts stepped up the pressure, with Woods’ shot blocked and Boyce’s header tipped over by Ridgers.
Gardyne shot flashed wide, while Curran’s flick-on set up Boyce whose stabbed attempt forced a good reaction save from Ridgers. St Mirren offered a reminder of their threat on the break when James Dayton flashed a shot wide from the edge of the box, however at the other end it took a fabulous save from Ridgers to tip Dingwall’s shot round the post.
County manager Jim McIntyre brought on De Vita, Darvydas Sernas and Joe Cardle to freshen up the Staggies attack, with their nearest effort coming on 88 minutes when Paul Quinn’s header from De Vita’s free-kick landed on the roof of the net.
However, the game took a stiff twist in stoppage time, when Lewis Morgan went through on goal but was pulled down by Staggies goalkeeper Brown – who was red carded for his challenge. With all substitutes used up, Sernas took his place between the sticks, but was unable to prevent Thompson’s effort finding the net.