Ross County were hit by late heartache as Dundee United came from behind to triumph 2-1 at Tannadice.
The Staggies were well below par in the first half, but United were unable to capitalise. After stepping it up after the break County were rewarded with the lead through in-form winger Regan Charles-Cook.
United hit back through Nicky Clark’s penalty however, with the striker nodding home the winner a minute into stoppage time after County had passed up a number of fine chances to regain their lead.
The Dingwall men remain 10th after the agonising defeat, but are now a point closer to the relegation zone.
County had been forced to make a number of enforced changes for Saturday’s Scottish Cup tie at Livingston. The Staggies were able to welcome some of their absentees back for the trip to Tayside however, with leading scorer Regan Charles-Cook, Ash Maynard-Brewer, Alex Iacovitti, Harry Paton and Jordan White returning to the starting line-up.
That meant Ross Laidlaw, Jack Burroughs, Kayne Ramsay, Ben Paton and Alex Samuel dropped out of the side.
Despite the cup exit, the Staggies were aiming to keep their impressive league momentum going, with last week’s triumph over Motherwell their fifth win from their last 11 matches.
They were up against an out of sorts United side who had lost their last six league matches on the bounce, but were boosted by an extra-time cup victory over Kilmarnock at the weekend.
It was the hosts who should have taken the lead with the game’s first clear-cut chance on 10 minutes. Tony Watt, who was making his first league start, drifted past Connor Randall before his cross presented Marc McNulty with an open goal, but the outstretched striker somehow screwed his effort wide.
United continued to look the more dangerous, with Peter Pawlett’s effort forcing a block from Iacovitti on 21 minutes.
The Staggies struggled to get into their own attacking rhythm, with their forward players making little impact on the game. They did have a mild penalty appeal on 27 minutes when the ball struck the arm of Dylan Levitt inside the box, although the midfielder had kicked it before contact was made.
United continued to cause problems, with Kieran Freeman whistling an effort just past the post from a wide right position, while McNulty shot straight at Maynard-Brewer after dispossessing Iacovitti in a moment of carelessness from the defender.
Iacovitti was not the only Staggies player guilty of some slack play, however United were unable to capitalise before the interval.
Mackay’s first change at the break was an intriguing one, with defender Jack Baldwin brought on to play an anchoring midfield role in place of Paton.
The Staggies instantly looked more menacing, with White unable to read a Charles-Cook knockdown, before White’s delivery towards Dominic Samuel was knocked behind his own goal by Freeman.
Blair Spittal was next to threaten with a low effort which was blocked, but County broke the deadlock on 53 minutes. It stemmed from a Baldwin strike from distance which Benjamin Siegrist did well to palm away, but only as far as Charles-Cook who showed excellent composure to rattle his ninth goal of the season high into the net.
It was the continuation of an excellent streak of form from the Grenada international, and he was hungry to add to his tally. After being played through by Joseph Hungbo he went through on goal at an angle, with Siegrist turning his effort around his near post.
Maynard-Brewer had to be lively at the other end on 69 minutes when Jeando Fuchs played in Ian Harkes, with the Australian goalkeeper palming the effort to safety.
United were handed a perfect chance to restore parity four minutes later however. Freeman’s cross was turned goalwards by Clark, with Drysdale penalised for handball by referee David Munro. Clark converted the penalty into Maynard-Brewer’s bottom left corner, although the goalkeeper was not far from getting to it.
The home side had their tails up, with Freeman flashing an effort wide of target on 80 minutes.
County were denied a winner three minutes from time when Jake Vokins’ delivery picked out Hungbo, but his strike on the turn was met by a fine save by Siegrist.
It came back to bite County as Clark nodded home the winner from a Watt cross in stoppage time, in a sickening blow for the Staggies. County appealed for a penalty in the dying seconds after claiming Charles-Cook’s strike was blocked on the line by a United arm, but Tam Courts’ men held on.
DUNDEE UNITED (4-3-3) – Siegrist 7; Freeman 7, Edwards 6, Butcher 6, McMann 6; Fuchs 6 (Appere 84), Levitt 6, Harkes 6; Pawlett 5 (Niskanen 54), McNulty 6 (Clark 54), Watt 7. Subs not used – Eriksson, Sporle, Meekison, Neilson, Glass, Mochrie.
ROSS COUNTY (4-3-3) – Maynard-Brewer 6; Randall 6, Drysdale 7, Iacovitti 6, Vokins 7; Callachan 7, Spittal 6 (Ramsay 61), H Paton 5 (Baldwin 46); D Samuel 5 (Hungbo 61), White 7, Charles-Cook 7. Subs not used – Laidlaw, Watson, Burroughs, Ramsay, Hungbo, B Paton, Wright, Mackinnon.
Referee – David Munro 5
Man of the match: Nicky Clark