Ross County dug deep to secure their first home victory of the Premiership campaign against Hibernian.
The match was increasingly becoming a scrappy affair which looked to be heading for a stalemate, until Blair Spittal’s unconventional winner.
Christian Doidge was dismissed late on for the Premier Sports Cup finalists, while Martin Boyle also saw red following the full-time whistle on a thoroughly pleasing night for Malky Mackay’s Staggies.
County’s win was their second from their last three matches, and moves them back to within a point of second-bottom Dundee.
It was a long-awaited encounter which finally went ahead at the third time of asking following a Covid outbreak within the Hibs camp. That call-off had rendered County virtually idle, with a 4-2 loss to Rangers earlier this month their only action since they recorded their stunning 5-0 victory over Dundee on October 27.
Malky Mackay made one change from the side which fell to defeat at Ibrox. Jordan White was recalled to the starting line-up after netting from the bench, with Jack Burroughs making way.
Hibs made the trip to Dingwall in buoyant mood, following their 3-1 victory over Rangers in the Premier Sports Cup semi-final on Sunday.
There were early signs of their confidence shining through, with hat-trick hero Martin Boyle bursting down the right flank before crossing for Kevin Nisbet, who directed his free header straight at Ashley Maynard-Brewer.
Nisbet was presented with another fine chance on 15 minutes when he met Chris Cadden’s delivery from a similar position, with his headed effort back across goal this time trundling wide.
County should have taken the lead on 20 minutes however, when a pinpoint set-piece from the left flank by Joseph Hungbo found the head of White, but despite being just eight yards out he guided his effort wide of the post.
It came during a promising spell for the Staggies, however Hibs still showed flashes of their own attacking danger and were inches from taking the lead on 34 minutes. A crisp move saw Boyle feed Cadden down the right, with his low delivery picking out Paul Hanlon whose strike came back off Maynard-Brewer’s right-hand post.
The Staggies struggled to create such clear-cut chances of their own, with White seeing a tame effort easily gathered by Matt Macey after receiving a flick-on from Ross Callachan.
There was to be no way through before the break, with the home side looking to start the second half quickly. They had a penalty appeal within the opening seconds, with White flicking Harry Paton’s delivery into the path of Joseph Hungbo who went to ground under the attention of Josh Doig, however referee Gavin Duncan was unmoved.
At the other end, Maynard-Brewer had to be alert to get down to a fizzing low Boyle effort on 55 minutes, before also collecting a Nisbet strike from a decent position on the edge of the box following a neat lay-off from Josh Campbell.
The Staggies had been relatively sound in defence, and although the Hibs pressure threatened to increase as the game passed the hour mark the Dingwall men largely looked assured in keeping them at bay.
County looked to snatch a late breakthrough, with Hungbo cutting in from the left before seeing an awkward low effort palmed around the far post by Macey.
The home side secured the breakthrough by bizarre means on 73 minutes however. Seconds after arriving on the field, Spittal played in a cross from the left flank which appeared to be aimed at White, but despite the attacker not getting a touch it still had enough to trundle past Macey.
County spurned a glorious chance to double their lead moments later when Macey raced out of his goal to make a clearance which fell straight to the feet of Hungbo, however the on-loan Watford winger showed a lack of composure as he blasted his effort high over the bar.
The home side showed strength of character to see out the match though, with Hibs’ task made all the harder with six minutes remaining when substitute Doidge was dismissed for catching David Cancola in a late challenge.
Spittal, Hungbo and Harry Clarke all spurned excellent late chances to make the victory more comfortable, however it was to be a satisfying night’s work for Mackay’s men.
ROSS COUNTY (4-2-3-1) – Maynard-Brewer 7; Clarke 7, Baldwin 8, Iacovitti 7, Randall 6; Paton 6, Tillson 6 (Cancola 62); Hungbo 7, Callachan 6, Charles-Cook 6 (Spittal 72); White 6 (Watson 81). Subs not used – Laidlaw, Vokins, D Samuel, Robertson.
HIBERNIAN (3-5-2) – Macey 5; McGinn 6, McGregor 6, Hanlon 6; Cadden 6, Doyle-Hayes 6, Campbell 6 (Allan 76), Newell 7, Doig 6 (Gullan 81); Nisbet 5 (Doidge 67), Boyle 7. Subs not used – Dabrowski, Wright, Gogic, Stevenson.
Referee – Gavin Duncan 6
Attendance – 3,369
Man of the match: Jack Baldwin