Ross County have Queen of the South to thank for keeping them top of the table, but will reflect on a missed opportunity to give themselves breathing space ahead of a crunch week.
County’s 1-0 defeat to bottom club Alloa Athletic presented Dundee United with the ideal chance to overhaul the two-point deficit at the summit, albeit the Dingwall men have two games in hand.
The Staggies would have been relieved to learn Robbie Neilson’s side went down 2-1 at home to Queens when they came off the field at Recreation Park, but it will also have added to their frustration at what might have been following a second successive league defeat.
Dario Zanatta’s first-half goal was decisive for a spirited Wasps side, leaving County to rue poor finishing and an inspired goalkeeping display from Alloa’s Neil Parry.
The trip to Clackmannanshire kick-started a crucial week for the Staggies, with tomorrow’s Highland derby against Caley Thistle followed by a potentially defining top-of-the-table encounter at home to Dundee United on Friday.
County had defeated Alloa on all three previous occasions this term but the Wasps have been tricky opposition, with two of those wins requiring last-minute goals.
Jim Goodwin’s men enjoyed a bright start, with on-loan Celtic attacker Jack Aitchison particularly lively, firstly being thwarted by an excellent challenge from Keith Watson on 15 minutes, before he cut inside and saw a low drive impressively palmed away by Fox four minutes later.
The Staggies’ first serious threat arrived on 23 minutes, with a neat move involving Don Cowie and Brian Graham eventually setting up Jamie Lindsay for a low drive which called Parry into action for the first time with a fine low save.
Both goalkeepers were being kept busy, with Scott Fox once again called upon to keep the Staggies level on 27 minutes, diverting Andy Graham’s header from Iain Flannigan’s free-kick over the bar with a fingertip save.
At the other end Lewis Spence’s shot was turned behind by Parry following a marauding run by the midfielder.
The game’s decisive moment arrived on 33 minutes, albeit in controversial circumstances. It was an impressive display of composure from Zanatta who picked the ball up midway through the Staggies half before waltzing through the heart of the defence and rifling past Fox, but the visitors were adamant Aitchison was offside in the build-up.
County could have counteracted the setback before the break, with Graham spurning a glorious chance when he nodded wide from close range after being picked out unmarked by Mullin’s delivery.
Graham had another fine chance after the interval but was unable to keep his effort down after being picked out by a Kenny van der Weg delivery.
Parry made a further save to thwart Graham’s low drive, before Daniel Armstrong nodded inches over in stoppage time. This was not County’s day, however, as Alloa moved to within two points of Falkirk.