Ross County must find solutions quickly after their woes were compounded by a bruising 5-0 defeat by Motherwell.
After falling behind in to Kevin Van Veen’s penalty, the Staggies went into the interval intent on rallying in the remaining 45 minutes.
For the second successive match a miserable second half followed, with Van Veen going on to complete his hat-trick, along with further goals from Callum Slattery and Joe Efford.
It is the heaviest defeat the Staggies have suffered since Malky Mackay arrived in summer 2021.
Although the Staggies recovered from a poor start to finish in the top-six last season, the manner of their last two defeats will be a huge cause for concern among the Staggies’ support.
There were no wholesale changes from Saturday’s defeat to Hibs, with the bulk of the weekend’s starting 11 given another opportunity to impress.
The exceptions were David Cancola, who made way for Jordan Tillson in the heart of midfield, while William Akio was replaced by Josh Sims in the right wing position.
Motherwell arrived in the Highlands in far from prolific form themselves, having registered just a point from their last four league matches. Among their ranks was midfielder Blair Spittal, who faced the Staggies for the first time since leaving Victoria Park during the summer.
It was County who had the first glimpse of goal on nine minutes, when a long throw-in by Jack Baldwin was flicked on by Jordan White, with Ross Callachan unable to keep his header down.
Motherwell’s first effort came on the quarter-hour mark when Paul McGinn’s low cross found Kevin Van Veen at the near post, however the Dutchman smashed his effort into the side netting.
The Staggies continued to threaten at the other end, with Ben Paton drilling a low effort just wide to the relief of the static Liam Kelly.
Well were handed a dangerous opportunity on 22 minutes when Sims was penalised for bringing Van Veen down right on the edge of the box, despite appearing to have made strong contact with the ball. The wall did its job, by blocking Sean Goss’ effort.
The Steelmen were not to be denied just four minutes later. Referee Chris Graham this time pointed to the spot after Callachan brought down Joe Efford inside the box, with Van Veen sending Ross Laidlaw the wrong way from the spot.
County got themselves into some good areas but all too often their final ball let them down, but an opening nearly arose on 35 minutes when White forced the ball into Sims’ path following a Callachan square ball, with the winger attempting to find the net on the turn but saw his effort blocked inches behind.
It was an encouraging end to the half for the Staggies, with Callachan seeing a free-kick deflected narrowly over on the stroke of half-time.
Mackay restructured his frontline at the interval, with Jordy Hiwula and Dominic Samuel replacing Paton and White in an attack-minded double substitution.
The changes had no time to take effect before County’s hopes were virtually killed off by a quickfire Motherwell double.
County looked to have survived a let-off when Efford went through on goal but was denied by a strong save by Laidlaw on 48 minutes. The visitors quickly worked the ball to Slattery however, who was in acres of space at the edge of the box to drill a low strike past the Staggies goalkeeper.
Mackay’s men conceded a third goal less than two minutes later when Motherwell broke rapidly following a Staggies attack, with Efford running through on goal before squaring for Van Veen to tap into the empty net.
It was hard to see a way back for the Dingwall men, who introduced Akio and Cancola in place of Callachan and White who had both been booked.
County’s night got even worse before the hour mark when the backline failed to clear the danger, allowing Efford to net his second with a low strike which Laidlaw could not keep out.
By this stage it was very much at the damage limitation stage for the Staggies, with precious few home supporters still in the ground by the time Van Veen clipped home his third goal in stoppage time.
County will be desperate to put things right when they travel to Livingston on Saturday, as they remain five points adrift in 10th place.
ROSS COUNTY (4-2-3-1) – Laidlaw 6; Johnson 6, Baldwin 5, Iacovitti 5, Purrington 5; Tillson 5, Paton 5 (Hiwula 46); Sims 6 (Akio 58), Callachan 6 (Cancola 58), Edwards 5 (Olaigbe 76); White 5 (D Samuel 46). Subs not used – Eastwood, Dhanda, Loturi, Watson, Olaigbe.
MOTHERWELL (4-2-3-1) – Kelly 6; McGinn 6, Solholm Johansen 6, Lamie 6, Penney 6; Goss 7, Slattery 7; Efford 8 (McKinstry 70), Shields 7, Spittal 6 (Tierney 70); Van Veen 8 (Moult 70). Subs not used – Oxborough, O’Donnell, Mugabi, Maguire, Cornelius, Morris.
Referee – Chris Graham
Attendance – 2,568
Man of the match: Joe Efford