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Ross County drop to sixth in Premiership after losing crunch clash against Motherwell

Kevin Van Veen celebrates netting against Ross County.
Kevin Van Veen celebrates netting against Ross County.

Ross County’s European hopes are now in the balance after Motherwell claimed a 1-0 victory in a crunch encounter at Victoria Park.

In an increasingly tense affair, the Steelmen claimed the points courtesy of Kevin Van Veen’s second half penalty.

County threw everything they had at the visitors but could not conjure up an equaliser.

It is a result which sees Malky Mackay’s men drop to sixth place, two points behind Well, with only two games remaining, with the Lanarkshire men and Dundee United now in the driving seat to claim the two remaining European places.

The Staggies were boosted by the return of Jack Baldwin to the side following a two-game suspension, with the defender skippering the side in place of Keith Watson.

Well made the trip north having been struck by a sickness bug, which ruled Bevis Mugabe, Callum Slattery and Van Veen out of the starting line-up.

Graham Alexander’s men came into the match on a poor run of only one win from 15 league matches in 2022, yet they were still within striking distance of a European place.

Jordan White in action against Motherwell.

The Staggies looked to apply early pressure, with Regan Charles-Cook seeing an effort from the edge of the box deflected wide, while Jake Vokins sent an effort into the arms of Liam Kelly following a short corner by Blair Spittal.

County looked fired up for the occasion, with another corner by Spittal on nine minutes finding its way to David Cancola, who fired a fizzing effort narrowly over the crossbar.

Spittal’s set-pieces continued to cause problems, with a free-kick on 15 minutes finding the head of Alex Iacovitti who could not keep his effort down.

Motherwell did not offer much threat in the opening stages, although a dangerous Stephen O’Donnell delivery forced a fine far post clearance from Connor Randall.

Their next effort came on 29 minutes, when Mark O’Hara drove an effort wide after finding a shooting opportunity inside the box.

County carved out a fine chance on the half-hour mark, with neat play seeing Randall and Spittal link up down the right before Charles-Cook was picked out, however he blazed his strike harmlessly over.

Alex Iacovitti in action against Motherwell.

At the other end, Ross Laidlaw was called into action for the first time when he turned a Joe Efford strike around the post, before Connor Shields nodded inches over after Rickie Lamie headed Mark O’Hara’s corner back across goal.

Chances became limited as the first half wore on, with tension starting to show given the high stakes.

Mackay made a tactical switch at the break, with Joseph Hungbo brought on to replace Jordan Tillson to add further creativity to the side.

County were first to threaten after the break, with the ball breaking to Cancola after Spittal’s run was halted, however the Austrian’s curling effort drifted narrowly past the post.

Joe Efford and Joseph Hungbo clash.

The Staggies upped the pressure, with Ross Callachan seeing a powerful effort blocked behind by Jake Carroll on 61 minutes.

Jordan White was presented with a chance moments later after being played in by Cancola’s lofted ball, however his mis-hit effort was comfortably taken by Kelly.

Spittal came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock on 65 minutes, when he got an excellent connection on Watson’s delivery, but his thumping effort drew a superb fingertip save from Kelly.

The impressive Spittal turned provider moments later, with a cross which fell to White who could not keep his volleyed effort down.

The game’s flashpoint arrived on 67 minutes, when Alex Iacovitti appeared to be harshly penalised for going through the back of substitute Van Veen. County strongly protested referee David Munro’s decision, however Dutchman Van Veen composed himself to send Laidlaw the wrong way from the spot.

Malky Mackay.

County pushed for a way back into the game, with Mackay showing his intent by bringing Dominic Samuel on in place of Cancola, before Matthew Wright came on for Jake Vokins.

The Staggies were erratic in their use of the ball as their desperation began to show, with Callachan scooping an effort high over from just inside the box.

A Hungbo delivery on 86 minutes looked to be perfectly placed for the head of Iacovitti, however the defender failed to make contact with the ball.

Another delivery from the on-loan Watford winger evaded everybody, before Kelly somehow scrambled across his goal to claw it wide.

Balls continued to flash across Motherwell’s goal, however the Steelmen held firm to claim a crucial triumph.

ROSS COUNTY (4-2-3-1) – Laidlaw 6; Randall 6 (Watson 55), Baldwin 6, Iacovitti 6, Vokins 6 (Wright 85); Tillson 5 (Hungbo 46), Cancola 7 (D Samuel 76); Spittal 8, Callachan 7, Charles-Cook 6; White 6. Subs not used – Munro, Sims, Burroughs, Drysdale, B Paton.

MOTHERWELL (4-3-3) – Kelly 8; O’Donnell 7, Ojala 5 (Slattery 63), Lamie 7, Carroll 6; O’Hara 6, Goss 6, Donnelly 6; Tierney 5 (Shaw 71), Efford 5 (Van Veen 63), Shields 5 (Cornelius 84). Subs not used – Connelly, Campbell, Mahon.

Referee – David Munro 5

Attendance – 3,067

Man of the match: Blair Spittal

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