Ross County reaped the rewards of their attacking bravery as the 10-man Staggies secured an impressive 3-1 victory over Motherwell.
The first half looked certain to end goalless until Sondre Solholm Johansen turned Regan Charles-Cook’s cross into his own net on the stroke of the interval.
A five-minute spell leading up to the hour mark appeared turn the tide in Motherwell’s favour, with Jordan Roberts netting a stunning leveller before Staggies substitute Jordan Tillson was shown a straight red card.
It was County who had the final say however, with Regan Charles-Cook’s late double marking a perfect start to 2022.
The valuable result moves 10th placed County five points clear of the relegation zone, while keeping them on the coat-tails of a number of teams above them.
Malky Mackay handed a debut to Declan Drysdale at the heart of the defence, with fellow new addition Kayne Ramsay starting on the bench. Drysdale was among three players drafted into the side, along with Ash Maynard-Brewer, Alex Iacovitti and Ross Callachan. Of the side which last played in the 2-1 loss to Hearts on Boxing Day, Ross Laidlaw, Dominic Samuel, the suspended Jack Baldwin and the departed Harry Clarke dropped out.
The Staggies were up against a fourth-placed Steelmen side which was making do without leading scorer Tony Watt for the first time following his switch to Dundee United. Watt netted the winner when the sides last met in September, on a day when the Staggies’ fine display merited more from the game.
Although County fell to defeat at Tynecastle in their last outing, Mackay’s men still had momentum on their side from the final weeks of 2021. County’s only three losses from their last 10 games had come against the present top three, with the Staggies aiming to get off to a flying start in their first action of the new year.
Goalmouth action was limited in the opening stages, with good defending by Connor Randall preventing Motherwell from testing Maynard-Brewer when he made a strong block to thwart Kevin Van Veen’s low effort.
Mackay was forced to make a change when Joseph Hungbo pulled up with a strain in the middle of the park, with Dominic Samuel brought on to replace him.
Samuel had the chance to make an immediate impact when he was played in by Drysdale’s long pass on 22 minutes, however Nathan McGinley got across the backline to block his effort.
Injuries were having a disruptive effect on the Staggies, with David Cancola next to be withdrawn for Tillson on 29 minutes.
Neither goalkeeper was tested during the first half, with Barry Maguire off target with a low effort from the edge of the box. Van Veen came closer to breaking the deadlock however, with the Dutchman seeing his free-kick clip the outside of the post on 36 minutes.
The Staggies had struggled to produce a spark in the first half, until they struck at the most crucial time in the final minute of stoppage time. Jake Vokins released Charles-Cook down the left before he cut inside past Bevis Mugabi, producing a low cross which was sliced high into the net by the unfortunate Solholm Johansen at the near post.
Motherwell looked to make a strong response at the start of the second half, and they produced a stunning equaliser on 55 minutes. Van Veen’s cutback found Roberts on the edge of the box, and the former Caley Thistle player let fly with a whistling strike which left Maynard-Brewer helpless.
The Staggies were dealt a further blow just five minutes later when Tillson was shown a straight red card for a full-bodied challenge on Donnelly, albeit the Englishman looked to have played the ball.
County showed attacking intent despite their numerical disadvantage, with Callachan seeing a strike blocked by Goss following Samuel’s lay-off.
The hosts were not to be denied on 73 minutes however. White got enough on Samuel’s delivery from the right to tee up Charles-Cook, whose close-range effort had too much for Liam Kelly to keep out.
It got even better for the 10 man Staggies with 10 minutes remaining, when Mugabi was penalised for handling Charles-Cook’s cross. The Grenada international stepped up to the challenge himself, sending Kelly the wrong way with the spot kick.
ROSS COUNTY (4-2-3-1) – Maynard-Brewer 6; Randall 6, Drysdale 8, Iacovitti 7, Vokins 6; Callachan 7 Cancola 5 (Tillson 29); Hungbo 5 (D Samuel 19), Spittal 7, Charles-Cook 8 (Ramsay 82); White 7 (Burroughs 82). Subs not used – Laidlaw, A Samuel, B Paton, Wright, Mackinnon.
MOTHERWELL (4-3-3) – Kelly 6, O’Donnell 6, Solholm Johansen 5, Mugabi 5, McGinley 7; Maguire 6 (Shields 78), Goss 7, Donnelly 6; Woolery 6 (Amaluzor 86), Van Veen 7, Roberts 7. Subs not used – Fox, Carroll, O’Connor, Slattery, Grimshaw, Morrison, Cornelius.
Referee – John Beaton 6
Man of the match: Regan Charles-Cook