Ross County took a major stride towards Premiership safety by coming from behind to defeat Hamilton Accies 2-1 at Victoria Park.
Accies threatened to drag the Staggies into the mire when they took the lead through Scott McMann’s free-kick midway through the first half, however the Staggies equalised within a minute through Blair Spittal’s stunning strike.
Substitute Charlie Lakin came up with the winning goal just six minutes after being introduced, with the victory ensuring County need just a point from Sunday’s trip to Motherwell to be sure of survival.
Kilmarnock’s 3-3 draw with St Mirren effectively sends Hamilton down, with Killie needing to defeat Accies this weekend and hope the Staggies lose to Well in order for them to leapfrog the Highlanders out of the relegation play-off spot.
There was no disguising the magnitude of the game, with County knowing a victory over Accies would rule out the prospect of them finishing bottom.
Whether they could stave off the threat of the relegation play-off spot depended on Kilmarnock’s game against St Mirren, where County needed a Buddies victory in order to secure full safety ahead of Sunday’s final day trip to Motherwell.
The Staggies’ confidence was boosted by the fact they went into the game fresh from one of their best displays of the campaign in their 2-0 victory over Dundee United. It was no surprise to see John Hughes go with the same team selection, with the Staggies boss and Hamilton counterpart Brian Rice both in the stand serving touchline bans.
The match started in cagey fashion, with Aaron Martin and Stephen Kelly both finding their way into Willie Collum’s book within the opening three minutes.
Both sides struggled to get into any sort of rhythm in the early stages of the game, with no chances of note in the opening 20 minutes. It was no surprise Accies’ breakthrough came from a set-piece, with McMann winning the foul perilously close to the penalty area after being brought down by Jordan Tillson.
McMann was still able to find the net however, with the left wing-back’s low effort making it through County’s assembled wall to leave Ross Laidlaw static.
It was a severe setback for the Staggies which threatened to leave them in a precarious position, but they showed the perfect response to level within a minute. It was a spectacular finish from Spittal, with the attacker continuing his strong recent form with a stunning drilled low finish into the corner from 20 yards after being teed up by Jordan White.
It proved to be County’s only meaningful chance of the first half however, with Accies the side who probing as the interval approached.
The visitors were inches from regaining the lead on the half hour mark when Ross Callachan capitalised on a loose touch from Michael Gardyne to run through on goal, with his strike clipping the outside of the post on its way wide.
On-loan Aberdeen forward Bruce Anderson also saw a strike whistle narrowly over, however the level scoreline at the halfway stage left the game firmly up for grabs in the second 45 minutes.
County started the second half brightly, drilling an effort wide from the right angle of the box after his own delivery had been returned to him by the head of Hakeem Odoffin, while at the other end McMann headed over at the far post.
Accies remained menacing however, with McMann this time the provider for Callachan to nod over the bar from eight yards.
Kelly was presented with a strike at goal just after the hour mark when the ball broke to him following Spittal’s partially cleared delivery, however he could not keep the effort down.
County were not to be denied on 71 minutes however, with Lakin capping an excellent Staggies move with a stunning strike, with his low strike whistling past Kyle Gourlay after he had been teed up by White.
The home side had to withstand heavy pressure from Accies who desperately looked to preserve their top-flight status, with David Moyo heading over from Nathan Thomas’ delivery.
Substitute Harry Paton spurned a glorious chance to wrap up the points when he went clean through on goal, but screwed his effort into the side netting.
ROSS COUNTY (4-3-3) – Laidlaw 6; Naismith 7, Donaldson 7, Iacovitti 5 (Watson 52), Hjelde 5 (Lakin 65); Tillson 7, Vigurs 6, Kelly 6; Spittal 8 (Paton 87), White 7, Gardyne 7 (Charles-Cook 87). Subs not used – Hilton, Draper, Shaw, Hylton, Andreu.
HAMILTON ACCIES (3-4-1-2) – Gourlay 6; Hamilton 6, Martin 6, Easton 5 (Thomas 75); Hodson 6, Odoffin 6, Mimnaugh 5 (L Smith 79), McMann 7; Callachan 6, Anderson 5 (C Smith 79), Moyo 5.
Subs not used – Scully, Stirling, Trafford, Stanger, Munro, Redfern.
Referee – Willie Collum 5
Man of the match: Blair Spittal