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John Hughes praises Ross County efforts after victory over Hamilton Accies takes Staggies to verge of Premiership safety

Ross County manager John Hughes.
Ross County manager John Hughes.

Ross County manager John Hughes is thrilled the efforts of his players have been rewarded after the Staggies moved to the cusp of Premiership safety.

County came from behind to defeat Hamilton Accies 2-1 in a crunch encounter at Victoria Park last night, with goals from Blair Spittal and Charlie Lakin overturning a Scott McMann opener.

Charlie Lakin celebrates his winning goal for Ross County.

The Staggies’ means they 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.

Hughes, who succeeded Stuart Kettlewell in December at a time when County were four points adrift at the foot of the league, insists he is proud of the response of his squad.

Hughes, who was serving the first of a two-game touchline suspension, said: “I’m just delighted for the players – it’s all about them.

“They have worked ever so hard since I have come in and we have had to really galvanise them.

“We have put demands on them and we have had a great response.

“You don’t get the results we have had against Celtic, Aberdeen, Hibs and one or two others for no reason. We have given ourselves a chance to stay in the Premiership so when that chance comes along, like tonight, I’m absolutely delighted we took it.

“It’s the second time this year we have had back-to-back wins, and a great time to do it.

Hughes paid tribute to his former assistant Brian Rice, whose Hamilton side were effectively relegated following the defeat.

Hamilton Accies manager Brian Rice.

Accies must defeat Killie by nine goals in order to prevent their seven-year Premiership stay coming to an end, and Hughes added: “Everybody knows how close myself and Brian are. I think we were together for about 15 years.

“He’s absolutely different class, he’s a real good coach who knows the game like the back of his hand.

“He’s at a good club who have defied the odds for a number of years to stay in the Premiership.

“They have got a right good guy in charge – I know his work ethic.

“I’m quite sure he will bring them right back up in one go.”

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.

Ross County celebrate Blair Spittal’s goal against Hamilton

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 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.

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