It was a sight that must have caused a flutter in Kilmarnock hearts, given football’s knack of throwing up exactly this kind of dramatic twist.
Lee Erwin entered the fray midway through the second half and, sure enough, was destined to come back and bite the club he played for before an ill-fated spell in Iran.
A winning goal from the 25-year-old striker – his first in a Ross County jersey – came as reward for 92 minutes of tireless, breathless endeavour from the Dingwall team.
That it came two minutes into stoppage time, securing back-to-back victories for the second time this season, made it all the sweeter for the Staggies and their home support after an action-packed afternoon.
“There is never a better way to win a game, but I thought we thoroughly deserved it,” County co-manager Stuart Kettlewell said. “I thought we were the better team throughout.
“The one criticism was just that we lacked that sharp edge in front of goal. We’ve looked like a team that is going to score in most games this season.”
Much has been made of County’s defensive record and the fact they have lost more goals in the Premiership than any other team. There was satisfaction, then, at securing a fourth clean sheet of the campaign.
“We’ve been much-maligned on our defensive aspect, but I thought that was rock-solid,” Kettlewell stressed. “Nathan Baxter, our goalkeeper, had to make one save, but apart from that I thought we defended exceptionally well.
“We’ve had a lot of criticism over the last number of weeks so it is nice to get that clean sheet and win it in that dramatic manner.
“It has been a massive couple of games for us, including the Hibs win, and it obviously builds a bit of confidence heading towards the next few games before the break.”
It was enthralling stuff – full-throttle, end-to-end football in front of a rapt crowd – and it was clear both teams fancied their chances as a high-energy first half unfolded. But that telling moment of inspiration eluded both sides until the death.
The Staggies kept the same starting 11 that, 10 days previous, had turned a 1-0 deficit against Hibs into a much-needed 2-1 victory, but after only eight minutes County’s Michael Gardyne went down clutching his right ankle and had to be replaced by Billy Mckay. Ross Stewart moved out wide right to accommodate the replacement striker and it was his cross after 26 minutes that almost created the opener with Brian Graham closing in, only for Dario Del Fabro to make a vital clearing touch.
Kilmarnock looked to strike rapidly on the break and, two minutes later, Chris Burke’s ball forward had Eamonn Brophy wheeling away on the right and leaving home defender Liam Fontaine for dead.
As Brophy strode into the box and went to shoot, Callum Morris slid in for a terrific saving block to thwart the forward.
County reacted by creating a spate of chances from the half hour mark. First, Josh Mullin’s corner was headed down dangerously across goal by Graham only for the arriving Stewart to see the ball flicked beyond him by Power’s leg.
A minute later, Stewart was cut down a yard outside the area, square on goal, but Mullin’s free-kick went straight at the wall.
Burke skimmed the crossbar for Killie with a 25-yard free-kick, before play tore to the other end where Stewart was denied by keeper Laurentiu Branescu’s brave dive at his feet.
Brophy finished the half with two close calls for Killie, first sending a 25-yard screamer just centimetres over the bar, before his header from a Stephen O’Donnell cross also rose too high.
A far more subdued start to the second period followed but there was an incredible close call for Killie after 74 minutes. Brophy managed to reclaim the ball sharp left in the County penalty area and his instant cross found Connor Johnson, only for the defender’s header to rise just over.
A minute later, Brophy surged into space but saw his strike blocked by the legs of on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Baxter.
County’s best chance came hot on the heels of that as Mullin’s through ball sent substitute Erwin racing away. He opted to flash in a first-time attempt that only just swerved wide from 20 yards.
Fontaine and Mullin both went agonisingly close from either side of the box entering the final 10 minutes, but it looked like ending up all square before Killie’s resistance was merely shattered.
Two minutes into stoppage time, from an initial corner, the ball was headed to the edge of the box where Erwin caught his shot cleanly.
The ball clattered off the bar and bounced on the goal-line but, from 12 yards, Erwin kept calm to side-foot the winner.