Defeat is hard to take but Ross County’s recent progress softened the blow of a Betfred Cup exit.
Co-manager Steven Ferguson, who alongside Stuart Kettlewell has helped orchestrate their resurgence, was a man disappointed at the manner of their 3-2 defeat to Partick Thistle, coming in extra-time, but not brow-beaten.
Just over 12 months on from their drop into the second tier, the Staggies are back looking to establish themselves as a top-flight side once again. The panic button will not be hit on the back of one game.
Ferguson said: “I don’t think we can be critical.
“We laid our cards on the table from the start – this was a brilliant opportunity to get to the last eight of a cup.
“We didn’t manage it last year and didn’t manage it this year.
“It’s disappointing from a club point of view but it just didn’t happen for us. If I had the answers for it, I’d be a rich man.
“Partick have all their off-field trouble and you have to credit them. They’ve been able to put that to the back of their minds or use it as motivation.
“They were certainly up for the game.
“It was a proper cup-tie and ended up like a game of basketball at the end.
“Unfortunately we’re on the losing side but our group of players have been fantastic over a 12 to 16-month period for us.
“We’ve had games where we’ve lost and we’ve always reacted.
“We’ll dust ourselves down and look to Livingston next week.”
Joe Chalmers deflected Joe Cardle’s corner against the frame of his own goal 11 minutes into the game, as Thistle started much the brighter side.
Ross Draper’s header, cleared off the line by Shea Gordon, was the closest a disjointed County side came to a chance.
Marcus Fraser and Blair Spittal down the County right were caught out positionally on numerous occasions as full-back James Penrice – given space by Kenny Miller tucking in – continued to make hay into more offensive positions.
The quality on offer was negligible – both teams struggled to string any coherent moves together and the game was fractured by a series of niggly, bitty fouls.
If an individual dual was to decide the game, then Draper against Stuart Bannigan made sense.
It was the perfect game for Draper, being able to sit deeper and break up moves before they get started.
Bannigan played the deepest of a three in midfield for Thistle and every bit of build-up play went through him.
Bannigan was in need of options in front of him but Draper had them out wide when he took control of the ball.
Spittal, Billy Mckay or Ross Stewart peeled out right and opened a running lane between the right-back and centre-half.
On one such occasion Mckay provided the outlet and Spittal the run through the middle, however on his return to Firhill Spittal could only blaze over the top.
Spittal, on his return to Firhill, hammered County in front on the hour when Steven Saunders – one of four ex-County players in the Thistle side – headed a long ball straight to the winger, who crashed it back past Fox.
It was the goal the game had been crying out for, with the game at times grinding down to a pedestrian pace.
County then shot themselves in the foot with 10 minutes to go, first affording Jones the time to cross and then leaving Miller unmarked to tuck the ball away at the back post.
Thistle looked most likely to win it in normal time, with both Penrice and Jones coming close, but extra-time was required to separate the two sides. Fontaine, who had a relatively comfortable up to this point, blotted his copybook by fouling Miller outside the box after cheaply conceding possession.
Penrice made him pay, curling the free-kick past Laidlaw via the inside of the post.
Even if the fare on offer was not pretty to watch, the game was delivering in terms of drama.
Paton, brought on for Chalmers at the start of extra-time kept the tie alive with a smart finish at the end of the first additional period.
But Saunders, the defender who spent two years with the Staggies, came back to haunt them with the winning goal with six minutes to go.
Ferguson added: “We felt we let our standards drop a little bit – on and off the ball it wasn’t quite there.
“Partick were right up for the cup-tie and we’re disappointed to lose.
“We’ll dust ourselves down as we’ve not had too many bumps in the road.”