Ross County suffered defeat in the most agonising of circumstances after 10-man Celtic netted a 96th minute winner to triumph 2-1 at Victoria Park.
The Hoops were thoroughly dominant during a first half in which County failed to pose any serious threat. Liel Abada’s goal midway through the half was the least Ange Postecoglou’s men deserved, however the Staggies responded with a courageous second half display.
Despite struggling to threaten Joe Hart, the Staggies levelled through Jack Baldwin’s goal from a corner on 57 minutes.
After Celtic were reduced to 10 men through Carl Starfelt’s red card the game opened up, with numerous chances for both sides in the final stages.
The Staggies were cruelly undone deep into stoppage time however, with Anthony Ralston bundling a header into the net to prompt a pitch invasion from the visiting crowd.
County came into the game boosted by coming off the foot of the Premiership table for the first time since mid-October. Mackay made three changes from the side which defeated Dundee 3-2 on Saturday, with Jake Vokins, Blair Spittal and Jordan Tillson drafted in for Connor Randall, David Cancola and Dominic Samuel.
The withdrawal of Samuel, coupled with Celtic’s use of Liel Abada up front, meant there was no recognised striker on either side. Mackay utilised Blair Spittal through the middle of a high intensity front three, with the attacking midfielder spearheading a 4-3-3 formation.
County instantly made clear their intent to squeeze the Hoops when they looked to play from the back. It was a set-piece which threatened to undo the home side after 11 minutes though when David Turnbull’s corner was met by Nir Bitton at the far post, with his header forcing a fingertip save by Ashley Maynard-Brewer.
The Staggies had to field more danger just two minutes later after giving away a free-kick inches outside their penalty box, with Turnbull’s effort blocked by the wall before Bitton sent the follow-up high over the bar.
County were cut open on 21 minutes though, with Hoops youngster Liam Scales released down the left flank before delivering for Abada to tuck home from close-range.
The goal injected a swagger into Celtic’s attacking play, with skipper Callum McGregor seeing a low strike well clutched by Maynard-Brewer following a swift passage of play.
County survived a let-off on the half-hour mark when Abada rounded the Australian goalkeeper following a crisp through ball by Josip Juranovic, however his hurried effort was hacked clear by Keith Watson.
The Staggies were dealt a further blow on 36 minutes when Harry Paton failed to shake off a knock, with the midfielder replaced by Samuel to signal a change in shape.
County struggled for openings during the first half, with Regan Charles-Cook flagged offside as he poked an effort wide from a deflected Joseph Hungbo delivery. At the other end, Scales scooped an effort high over the bar seconds before the break.
Celtic started the second half in determined mood as they looked to inflict a killer blow to the Staggies. Turnbull was desperately unlucky to see a deft lob from the edge of the box drift inches past Maynard-Brewer’s post, while Bitton drilled a strike just over.
Mackay added another attacking dimension in a bid to get back into the game when he brought Jordan White on for Ross Callachan on 53 minutes. White nearly had an immediate impact when his flick-on set up Samuel for a chance, only for him to see his effort on the turn blocked by Anthony Ralston.
The Staggies were not to be denied from the resulting corner however. Spittal’s inswinging delivery picked out Baldwin, who got across Scales to divert the ball past the helpless Hart.
County looked to maintain their threat, with Charles-Cook zipping a ball across goal which found no takers.
The Staggies had to hold firm under pressure, but they were handed a major boost with 11 minutes remaining when Starfelt was shown a second yellow card for hauling down Charles-Cook. The defender had initially been booked for dissent moments earlier after claiming White caught him with a flailing arm.
Realising the opportunity in front of them, County pushed for a late winner, with Spittal drilling a strike wide. Celtic remaining dangerous however, with Turnbull curling a free-kick narrowly over the crossbar.
They came even closer from another dead ball on 85 minutes, with Juranovic seeing his strike palmed away by Maynard-Brewer.
Play raged from end to end, with Hart fumbling a powerful Jack Burroughs strike before gathering at the second attempt, while Cameron Carter-Vickers saw a header clawed over by Maynard-Brewer at the other end.
Just as County looked to have secured a point, Celtic struck in the dying seconds when Ralston beat his marker to nod home at the far post.
ROSS COUNTY (4-3-3) – Maynard-Brewer 8; Clarke 8, Watson 7, Baldwin 7, Vokins 6; Tillson 7, Callachan 5 (White 53), H Paton 5 (D Samuel 36); Hungbo 6 (Burroughs 65), Spittal 8, Charles-Cook 7. Subs not used – Laidlaw, Randall, Cancola, Donaldson.
CELTIC (4-2-3-1) – Hart 6; Ralston 6, Carter-Vickers 6, Starfelt 5, Scales 7; Bitton 7 (Rogic 75), McGregor 6; Juranovic 7, Turnbull 7, Montgomery 5 (Moffat 63); Abada 6. Subs not used – Bain, Taylor, Shaw, Henderson, Welsh.
Referee – Alan Muir
Attendance – 5,592
Man of the match: Blair Spittal