Brian Graham’s hat-trick has put Ross County to within touching distance of the Premiership as they saw off Ayr United 3-1.
Calvin Miller’s first-half goal had ensured plenty of nerves within the Dingwall side but Graham’s leveller just before half-time set them on their way.
He found the net again immediately after the interval and rounded off his night in style with 20 minutes to go as he completed his hat-trick.
Their Highland neighbours Caley Thistle can do them a favour tomorrow and take points off Dundee United, which would confirm the Dingwall outfit as champions. The Arabs are already nine points and 20 goals behind County, making their title hopes nigh-on impossible now.
County made one change from the 0-0 draw with Partick Thistle, as Graham came in for Lewis Spence. Iain Vigurs was on the bench for the first time since December after nursing a foot injury.
The visitors, backed by a travelling support from the north in fine voice, stated their intent from the start. Graham was the chief protagonist, smashing goalwards when Sean Kelly did well to play him and then heading wide from Josh Mullin’s corner.
Graham racked up his third chance inside the opening five minutes, turning Michael Gardyne’s cross wide at the near post.
It took 12 minutes for the opening goal and it came from the hosts, with Marcus Fraser caught out by Liam Smith’s pass and allowing Nicky Cadden freedom to cross. He fizzed the ball across the face of goal to loanee Miller, who crashed high into the net at the back post.
Had Miller’s control been better from Cadden’s cross moments later, they could have had a second on the break as County struggled to regain their composure.
Miller was Ayr’s main threat, playing as a striker rather than down the left, and kept finding space in behind County’s shaky backline. He drilled another left-wing delivery into the area that only needed a touch from a white shirt to put the hosts 2-0 in front.
Graham’s next opportunity was on 33 minutes, forcing Ross Doohan to tip over his header, and Andy Boyle ought to have done better when Don Cowie found him from the resulting corner, rather than blasting high into the stands.
Three minutes before the break Graham was finally able to land a decisive blow. Mullin picked Robbie Crawford’s pocket and centred with pace, with Doohan parrying into Graham’s path and he directed the ball into the far corner.
Graham was not finished. Just 72 seconds into the second half he got another, completing the quickest of turnarounds. Mullin’s pass into the area was perfect, landing on Graham’s head from eight yards and his header crept beyond Doohan’s grasp.
Jamie Lindsay tried for goal from the edge of the box but sent his curling shot inches wide of the far post, as the Staggies looked to put the game to bed.
By the 72nd minute Graham duly obliged, finishing from six yards from Michael Gardyne’s to complete his treble.
Such was the swagger coursing through the County side, even Tom Grivosti felt confident enough to stride forward and smack the bar from 30 yards.
Miller was superbly denied by Scott Fox with a near-post header and Crawford whacked the outside of the post. But the Staggies were home and hosed and are now virtually certain to return to the Premiership at the first time of asking.