Former Ross County defender Brian Irvine praised Iain Vigurs and Michael Gardyne for securing the club’s place in the Premiership.
Vigurs (33) and Gardyne (35) delivered two classy finishes to cancel out a Sam Foley opener to clinch a 2-1 win at Motherwell on Sunday.
They needed one point to stay ahead of Kilmarnock in 10th place. Killie’s 2-0 win at Hamilton was not enough to catch County to maintain their stay at Scottish football’s top table.
Irvine was thrilled to see the midfielders showing their class in a match laced with pressure.
He said: “It wasn’t just about experience. It showed their passion for the club. You could see that it meant so much to those guys.
“While that passion doesn’t guarantee that they’d be the two goalscorers, their desire for the club to stay up shone through, not only in their performances but with the goals that they scored.
Celebrations showed what it meant to stay up
“It was fitting that they got the goals that secured the win. You could see from their celebrations what it meant to them, both after scoring and at full-time.
“They demonstrated how much it meant to keep the club in the Premiership.”
‘Football on a knife-edge’
Former Aberdeen star Irvine, who was capped nine times for Scotland, spent four years at County from 1999.
He reckons the Dingwall club as a whole will be lifted hugely by skipping the sweat of a play-off against Dundee, which Kilmarnock now face by finishing 11.
He explained: “Hamilton have gone down after seven years and there is no guarantee that you’ll come straight back up.
“At half-time, it looked as if we were heading into the play-offs. It really was football on a knife-edge, but Ross County turned it around with a great result.
Club can look ahead without ‘doom and gloom’
“It means the players, staff and supporters can look ahead towards next season instead of the doom and gloom of going down or worrying going into the play-offs.
“It’s always difficult to be playing against the Championship team, who are generally going in with winning momentum.
“The negative from the Championship side’s point of view is you might have more tired legs, although this season the Premiership teams have played until Sunday too, so that doesn’t come into it as much this time.
“I still fancy Kilmarnock to stay up, although it will be a difficult match against Dundee.”
Sinking Accies put County on road to safety
While winning at Fir Park earned the club a three-point finishing margin over Killie, Irvine stressed that those back-to-back victories over Dundee United and Hamilton put them in pole position to get the job done.
He explained: “John Hughes has done the job he was asked to do and that was to keep the club in the Premiership. It did go right to the wire, but to be fair to him he did say that it would.
“They got two massive results going into the final weekend and those really counted. The victory over Hamilton last week was the crucial one.
“The Motherwell game was always going to be tricky and that’s how it turned out with Motherwell taking the lead. But those wins over Dundee United and Hamilton were vital.”
Following Buddies would be wise move
As the Staggies gear up for their third successive top-flight campaign, Irvine feels that St Mirren, who were best of the rest in the bottom six, is a club to aim to follow at its next tangible target once safety is again secured.
The Paisley Buddies were a whisker away from getting into the upper half, but finished three places and six points ahead of County.
Irvine said: “The target has to be about staying up, first and foremost. If you’re looking at a club to follow and aspire to then St Mirren would be a realistic one for County.
“St Mirren only just missed out on the top six and they’ve finished seventh overall. If Ross County could look to aim for that then you’d certainly call that a really successful season.”
Fans’ return will provide major lift
With fans in Scotland back in small numbers at the Premiership play-off final this week, there is hope that turnstiles will click again for the start of next term.
Irvine is keeping his fingers crossed.
He added: “To get some supporters back in the grounds next season would be wonderful. It would be another step towards normality.
“I see some games from America where the crowds are coming back in, in the MLS (Major League Soccer) and the USL (United Soccer League). That’s what we have got to hope for.
“For society in general, everyone just wants to get back to a sense of normality. We are almost getting there, in terms of the vaccine, but we are in some ways a long way away.”