Better late than never. If ever there was a game to sum up that age-old cliche, this game was it.
In a game which Ross County had toiled in the mudbath of Victoria Park, thanks to St Johnstone’s diligence and a well-taken first-half goal from Stevie May, the points appeared destined to elude them again.
But Billy Mckay, a seasoned Premiership goal-getter down the years, finally lifted the gloom with a poacher’s finish that was so gratefully received.
“We feel it shows massive character and how much the players care, that they want to get something out of the game,” said co-boss Stuart Kettlewell.
“We didn’t see that in the first half. We changed our shape and it was far better in the second half, without ever being pretty. It was never going to be with the overhead conditions.
“It gives us a lot of hope, that good feeling of a last-minute goal. The big thing for us is that we make this a big point.
“We’ve said that to the guys – we need to make sure that’s something we look back on as a valuable point.”
Steven Ferguson and Kettlewell wielded the axe, making six changes from the 3-0 defeat at Easter Road. Don Cowie was drafted in on his 37th birthday, while Ross Laidlaw was recalled between the posts after a 14-game absence.
Laidlaw had not played since the 3-1 defeat to Aberdeen in November, losing his place to Chelsea loanee Nathan Baxter.
The pitch in Dingwall was none too forgiving, owing to the torrential conditions, and it seemed a perfect scenario again for Ross Draper to shine.
Excellent in the previous home win against Livingston, Draper was deployed in front of the back three in a protecting role.
From the early exchanges he showed his trademark aggression in winning the ball back, taking the ball cleanly from Scott Tanser first before being harshly punished by referee Colin Steven for upending Matthew Butcher, where he appeared to take the ball.
Far from just being a ball-winner, he has to recycle the ball too to the wing-backs – Josh Mullin and Richard Foster on this occasion – and the central midfielders in front of him.
However, after a couple of promising forays from Mullin down the right, one of which produced a cross-shot that hit the post, the game lacked momentum.
St Johnstone are looking to banish any lingering fears of the drop themselves and were positive, managing to move the ball around on the ground despite the sticky surface. It was causing problems, with Drey Wright and David Wotherspoon both coming close, and their approach seemed to be paying off more.
The home side were far from direct but relied on getting balls out wide to Mullin for him to deliver, with often few bodies to aim at in the box, or dropping balls over the top of the defence to Shaw. Neither route paid dividends in the first half.
May built on his industrious opening spell by giving Tommy Wright’s side the lead on 33 minutes, swapping passes with Chris Kane and timing his run perfectly to roll beyond Laidlaw.
It came amid a spell in which County looked ill at ease with the ball at their feet, with yellow shirts massing in their half. Draper was withdrawn at half-time with Harry Paton brought on and his energy and willingness to get forward dragged County further up the field but, aside from a Marcus Fraser pot-shot, their endeavours were proving fruitless. Crosses were flung into the box, with Blair Spittal’s late fresh-air swipe at Mullin’s centre summing up their afternoon.
After chaos in the goal-mouth, in which Jason Kerr cleared off his own goalkeeper, Mckay came up with the heroics in the 94th minute to turn in Mullin’s cross.
“We’re talking about this level of consistency, from winning against Livingston to losing pretty heavily against Hibs. You find yourself a goal down and it’s probably easy to go under at that point,” added Kettlewell. “The players acted out the message well in the second half and we knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.
“You’ll see many more games like that this season but it’s important you come out on the right side of them.”