Ross County can begin plotting a great escape after their five remaining Premiership post-split fixtures were revealed.
The Staggies are rock bottom of the table ahead of the defining closing stretch of the campaign.
Saturday’s 6-1 defeat to Hearts came as a crushing blow to County’s survival hopes, given it was also a day in which relegation rivals Kilmarnock, Dundee United and St Johnstone picked up points.
It was a combination of results which left County four points adrift of Killie and United, while they are six behind Saints.
Following the Tynecastle thrashing, Staggies boss Malky Mackay remained upbeat by insisting days of that nature have been a rarity during his near two years in charge.
Mackay pointed to the strong response which followed their chastening 5-0 home defeat to Motherwell earlier this season.
On that occasion, County answered their critics by returning to winning ways at Livingston four days later.
It will once again be the Lions who the Dingwall men will look to inflict a backlash upon, with David Martindale’s side their first post-split opponents at Victoria Park on May 6.
Strong start to post-split campaign vital for Dingwall men
Mackay will be pleased at starting with a home fixture, given the imminent need for points.
The manner of the defeat in Edinburgh has clearly deflated a number of Staggies fans. It makes a strong start to the post-split games vital, in order to give the support a cause to believe in as the season draws to a close.
County will then face a game against Dundee United at Tannadice on May 13 – a venue where they have fallen to defeat in each of their last three visits.
That will be followed by a trip to Motherwell on May 20, who the Staggies have not triumphed against this season.
At least one of these trends will need to be reversed in order for the Staggies to give their survival push any sort of momentum, as they approach what could be an all-defining final week.
The midweek visit of St Johnstone on May 24 looks to have all of the makings of a crunch encounter.
Although much could change in the upcoming three games, Saints are the only team on a poorer run of recent form than the Staggies.
Mackay’s men also have a comfortable 2-0 victory at McDiarmid Park earlier this month within recent memory.
Provided County are not cut adrift before then, the final day trip to Kilmarnock could also has a crunch encounter look to it.
The Staggies will take confidence from the fact they have taken more points from Killie than any other rival bottom-six team.
That being said, both victories came at Dingwall, with Derek McInnes’ men running out 1-0 winners at Rugby Park where the Ayrshire side boast a strong record.
Staggies have to claw back ground
Regardless of where the points come from, County will undoubtedly need to win more than they lose in the closing stretch.
The fixtures have worked out fairly – they haven’t been dealt any fixtures which mean they will play an uneven home/away games against any of the other team in the bottom half.
In their last relegation scrap under John Hughes two years ago, County required a haul of 10 points from a possible 15 in the post-split in order to finish in 10th place.
A final day 2-1 victory away to Motherwell ensured they finished three points above the relegation play-off spot.
It is worth noting that was the position they occupied prior to the split, however, meaning they had a far more advantageous starting point than they do at present.
Mackay will be targeting a similar if not better return from the upcoming fixtures in order for his side to give themselves the best possible chance of survival – and it is crucial they waste no time in doing so.
Ross County’s head-to-head record against bottom-six rivals
Livingston – (Home) May 6
Saturday October 8, 2022 – Livingston 0-1 Ross County
Saturday January 7, 2023 – Ross County 0-2 Livingston
Saturday March 18, 2023 – Livingston 2-1 Ross County
Points haul: 3/9
Dundee United (Away) – May 13
Saturday October 15, 2022 – Ross County 1-1 Dundee United
Wednesday December 29, 2022 – Dundee United 3-0 Ross County
Saturday February 25, 2023 – Ross County 4-0 Dundee United
Points haul: 4/9
Motherwell (Away) – May 20
Tuesday October 4, 2022 – Ross County 0-5 Motherwell
Saturday January 14, 2023 – Motherwell 1-1 Ross County
Saturday March 4, 2023 – Ross County 0-2 Motherwell
Points haul: 1/9
St Johnstone (Home) – May 24
Saturday September 17, 2022 – St Johnstone 0-0 Ross County
Saturday December 17, 2022 – Ross County 1-2 St Johnstone
Saturday April 8, 2023 – St Johnstone 0-2 Ross County
Points haul: 4/9
Kilmarnock (Away) – May 28
Saturday August 20, 2022 – Ross County 1-0 Kilmarnock
Saturday October 22, 2022 – Kilmarnock 1-0 Ross County
Saturday January 28, 2023 – Ross County 3-0 Kilmarnock
Points haul: 6/9