After a 4-1 hounding against Motherwell, it was the kind of disciplined, diligent display Steven Ferguson and Stuart Kettlewell would have been after.
While Rangers ultimately emerged victorious 1-0, thanks to Ryan Kent’s deflected winner, Ross County will take a great deal of credit and confidence from a display that, if repeated, will keep them well clear of any relegation trouble.
The game was ugly at times but only because County made it so, hounding and harrying Rangers when they needed to and restricting them when they threatened to be breached.
The fact it took a deflected finish from Kent to beat them tells of a hard-luck tale for the Staggies, who had chances of their own to make headline news.
Ferguson said: “We were never buying into the huge ‘crisis’ Rangers were having. They’re full of quality players and if you’re not at your maximum, they can punish you.
“We felt we were in the game from start to finish but when you play the top teams, you don’t get too many chances.
“For us to get three really good chances, we really have to take one of them.
“For Ross County to beat Rangers or even draw with Rangers, you need an element of luck.
“We never really got that with the goal they got, but when we create chances we really need to take them.
“Sometimes you need to credit the goalkeeper – we worked the goalkeeper twice and he’s made two good saves.”
Rangers were far from convincing, only giving real flashes of quality in the closing stages of the game when County had committed greater resources to their rescue mission.
They had Allan McGregor to thank on several occasions for deniying what would have been a memorable afternoon for the Dingwall club.
County had never beaten Rangers in 11 previous meetings between the sides and recalled Ross Stewart to their line-up, after the striker made his return from a hamstring injury in the defeat to Motherwell.
It started as a tale of two strikers – Ross Stewart and Alfredo Morelos. Stewart, who had been out with a hamstring injury and supplanted in the scoring stakes by Billy Mckay, was recalled but into a wide left role, up against stand-in Rangers full-back Matt Polster. It is not a role unfamiliar to Stewart, having been played there on several occasions this season. to make use of his sizeable frame as an out ball.
That left Mckay carrying the bulk of the load up front, although Don Cowie pressed and harried from the middle of the park and Josh Mullin got some joy against Borna Barisic down the right.
Morelos, dropped by his manager after returning back late from Colombia earlier this month, led the line for Rangers and against two physical centre-halves in Liam Fontaine and Callum Morris, he was not given an easy ride.
An attempt to nick the ball away from Morris was met by a swift rebuttal from the County defender – too strong for his counterpart – before Morelos’ over-exuberance got the better of him in clattering into Morris.
The first half was dry in terms of chances.
Rangers’ final ball too often let them down, with Ross Laidlaw having precious little to do after a couple of early saves from Glen Kamara and Kent.
County’s delivery was decent but chances to work McGregor were few and far between.
The Staggies started the second half with greater purpose. Mckay’s piece of invention, clipping the ball up for himself to shoot, was met by McGregor’s right leg, while Stewart sliced glaringly over the top after Mullin set him up.
Mullin was becoming an increasingly strong influence on the game, with his energy and willingness to carry the ball dragging County into more threatening areas.
He single-handedly carved out the chance for Stewart and then, switched on to the left to go up against Polster, left the American standing and it required McGregor’s intervention to prevent the opener.
A wave of pressure around the County penalty area preceded the opening goal, with Kent’s deflected effort creeping in at the far post.
Ferguson added: “As far as we’re concerned, playing against Rangers, Celtic or any of the top six teams for that matter, isn’t going to define what we’re going to do.
“We know the position we’re in and we’ve said it from the start of the season that’s where we’re going to be competing. There’s eight games now until the end of the season and we don’t play another top-six side again.
“We have to look at ourselves. We have to credit Rangers for winning the game but as far as Stuart and I are concerned, we couldn’t ask for any more.”