Ross County progressed to the final of the Irn-Bru Cup after a 2-1 victory at Victoria Park, despite facing stiff opposition in the form of League 1 side East Fife.
The Staggies came into the match with seven changes from the side that snatched a late draw with rivals Caley Thistle on Monday evening, with Ross Munro taking over from Scott Fox between the sticks, and Harry Paton and Tom Grivosti returning to the side.
There was also a debut spot for January acquisition Daniel Armstrong on the County wing.
County created the first real chance of the match after 6 minutes when Declan McManus flashed a half volley across goal following a throw in from skipper Marcus Fraser, but his effort narrowly crept behind East Fife goalkeeper Brett Long’s goal.
The Staggies took the lead in the 17th minute in bizarre fashion. Debutant Armstrong sent an inviting left footed delivery in from a corner on the right hand side, with the ball evading everybody, nestling into the far side of Long’s goal to make it 1-0 to the home side.
County almost doubled their advantage after 30 minutes, this time Armstrong turning the provider. Ross Stewart met the inviting floated cross, before attempting to send a drive in the direction of the goal but he failed to find the target.
County would soon find their second of the night with Declan McManus clinching his fourth goal of the season in the 37th minute, poking home after the ball careered into his path after Stewart’s effort was blocked by the visiting keeper.
The Fifers hit back immediately as lone striker Dowds met the tantalising cross from Craig Watson to head home, sending the visiting support into raptures and halving the deficit.
County took a 2-1 lead into the break and came flying out of the traps in the second period, McManus almost notching his second from close range after a terrific cross from Armstrong on the left, but goalkeeper Long was up to the test, parrying the shot from close range.
East Fife went close in the 68th minute, Scott Linton sending Aaron Dunsmore beyond the County backline, but the winger failed to keep his shot down as the ball rose narrowly over Munro’s goal.
Jamie Lindsay was thrown into the fold in the 73rd minute, replacing the influential Armstrong who had a fine debut for the Staggies.
East Fife went close in the 76th minute, goal scorer Dowds sending in a dangerous cross for substitute Kevin Smith, but under pressure from the County defence, the attackers header was directed straight at Munro who held comfortably.
Declan McManus departed for the final 10 minutes, with Michael Gardyne coming on in his place.
County should have wrapped the tie up in the 82nd minute as Mullin raced in on goalkeeper Long after an unselfish square ball from influential midfielder Harry Paton. Mullin honed in on goal but his effort was saved by the feet of Long, in what was a golden opportunity to put the tie to bed.
Gardyne’s deflected cross looked destined to find the back of the net in the 85th minute but for the intervention of Long, who was fantastic in the Fifers’ goal.
Kenny van Der Weg produced heroics in injury time to nick the ball away to safety after East Fife threw everything they had at County but the Staggies held on to book their place in next month’s final, where they will face either Connah’s Quay Nomads or Edinburgh City.