Ross County delivered a statement of intent by overcoming one of their toughest Championship tests with flying colours.
The Staggies were well worthy of the points against a Dunfermline outfit that had started the campaign in superb form with five successive victories, with strong defending and clinical finishing the key to the Highlanders’ success.
County displayed the qualities of a side that will take some stopping in the second tier when they are in full flow, as they triumphed thanks to goals from Josh Mullin, Michael Gardyne and Keith Watson after Pars striker Louis Longridge had briefly restored parity.
The result moves County to the top of the table after two games as the only side in the second tier to have maintained a 100% start to the campaign.
The Staggies were able to call upon winger Gardyne following suspension. He replaced Billy Mckay from the side that made a winning start to the season against Alloa Athletic. Gardyne and Mullin supported former Pars striker Declan McManus, who was the focal point of County’s attack with new signing Ross Stewart on the bench.
As widely expected, it was an open match from the start with both sides looking to engage their attacking players. It was the home side who had the best early opportunity when James Craigen whipped in an exquisite free-kick from the right with Lee Ashcroft bundling an effort off the post before Longridge blazed an effort over the bar after Gardyne surrendered possession.
The Staggies took a stunning lead on 25 minutes when Jamie Lindsay and Ross Draper combined to set up Mullin for a thumping strike from the right of the penalty box, which whistled into Lee Robinson’s top right-hand corner.
The lead lasted less than three minutes with the Pars equalising in fine fashion when a delivery from the left was not cleared by the County defence and Longridge steadied himself before hammering high into the net past Scott Fox.
It had the makings of an excellent game and County nearly regained their advantage immediately when a quickly taken free-kick by Iain Vigurs released Gardyne and his curling effort forcing a fingertip save from Robinson.
Dunfermline almost went in front on 34 minutes when Fox was caught underneath Craigen’s crossfield pass and Faissal El Bakhtaoui flashed a strike inches past the post.
The Fifers were becoming the greater threat with Fox coming to the Staggies’ rescue on 39 minutes with a point-blank save to deny Ryan Williamson after the ball broke fortuitously for the full-back inside the box.
County were in ruthless mood and they took the lead again three minutes before the interval courtesy of another piece of sublime quality. Gardyne picked up the ball midway inside the hosts’ half before wriggling his way into the box and sending a composed finish past Robinson from 16 yards.
At the start of the second half, the visitors looked to pick up from where they left off and Mullin’s low effort forced a good save from Robinson, before the back-tracking James Vincent denied Lindsay following up the rebound.
Gardyne was inches from his second goal when he saw a looping effort come back off the post but County did not have long to wait for a third goal, which arrived on 68 minutes as Draper knocked down Mullin’s corner for Watson to rifle high into the net.
The destiny of the points was never in doubt thereafter and the dominant manner of the victory will come as a huge boost for County, who are expected to finalise former Staggies midfielder Don Cowie’s return to Dingwall from Hearts, whose colts team provide the opposition for tomorrow’s IRN-BRU Cup match at Tynecastle.
DUNFERMLINE (3-5-2) – Robinson 6, Craigen 5, J Longridge 6, Williamson 5 (Higginbotham 65), Durnan 5, Ashcroft 6, Thomson 5 (Connolly 79), Vincent 6, El Bakhtaoui 5, L Longridge 6, Hippolyte 5 (Ryan 79). Subs not used – Gill, Todd, McCann, Smith.
ROSS COUNTY (4-3-3) – Fox 6, Fraser 6, Kelly 6, Morris 6, Draper 8, Gardyne 8 (Keillor-Dunn 85), Lindsay 7, McManus 6 (Graham 70), Vigurs 6, Mullin 8 (Dow 88), Watson 6. Subs not used – Munro, Mckay, Demetriou, Stewart.
Referee – Craig Thomson 6.
Attendance – 4,949.
Man of the match – Josh Mullin.