Ross County are beginning to set their sights further up the Premiership table following a convincing 3-0 victory over Motherwell.
Derek Adams’ impact on his newly-inherited County side continues to look more profound with each passing game, with the Staggies taking seven points from a possible nine without conceding since he replaced Malky Mackay last month.
On this occasion, the Staggies brushed aside a lacklustre Well outfit with ease, through goals from Simon Murray, Yan Dhanda and Ben Purrington.
County ended the match with 10 men after Will Nightingale was shown two quickfire bookings in the dying stages, however, it came too late to affect the outcome.
Although it remains tight in mid-table, the Staggies are increasingly playing with an assuredness which is threatening to leave a number of teams – including a Well side now without a win from 12 matches – trailing in their wake.
Despite the postponement of Saturday’s game against Livingston, the Staggies were still relatively fresh from their 1-0 triumph against St Mirren seven days previously.
Adams kept faith with the same starting 11 who faced the Buddies, with the Staggies also boosted by the return of Josh Sims to the bench following illness.
County had started on the front foot in both matches under Adams so far, but had yet to capitalise on it in the early stages. It was to be third time lucky on this occasion, with Murray emerging from a cluster of players to nod home at the near post from James Brown’s corner just two minutes into the game.
Motherwell goalkeeper Liam Kelly led the protests calling for a foul, but to no avail, however, the Steelmen showed a strong response to falling behind. An excellent double save from Ross Laidlaw was needed on eight minutes, initially to palm away a powerful Callum Slattery drive, before the Staggies goalkeeper stood tall to block Stephen O’Donnell’s follow up.
The Staggies doubled their advantage on 18 minutes, courtesy of an inspired finish by Dhanda. After latching on to Jack Baldwin’s crossfield pass, Dhanda cushioned the ball inside his marker before launching a delightful curling strike which left Kelly static. With such a composed finish, it is surprising it was Dhanda’s first strike of the campaign.
At this point County looked like they were ready to assume complete control of the game, with Murray seeing a deflected effort bobble off the outside of the post, before the striker nodded over from another Brown corner.
Motherwell looked for a way back into the game before the break, but they were unable to test Laidlaw, with former Staggie Blair Spittal sending an effort well over the Jail End just after the half-hour mark.
County spurned an excellent chance to net a third on 40 minutes following a neat exchange between Murray and Dhanda which led to Connor Randall going through on goal. He shot straight at Kelly.
In an attempt to spark a much-needed reaction, former Staggies boss Stuart Kettlewell made three changes to Well’s side at the interval, with Georgie Gent, Davor Zdravkovski and Calum Butcher introduced to the action.
County continued to look comfortable, however, but they looked to have been denied a third goal on 58 minutes, when White’s header from a pinpoint Dhanda delivery was saved by Kelly, with Purrington knocking home the rebound. Although it was initially flagged for offside, a lengthy VAR check concluded the goal should stand, prompting delayed celebrations from the home support.
Although the game looked far beyond the reach of Well, County were eager not to relinquish a third successive clean sheet, with Laidlaw forced to make an excellent fingertip save to thwart Gent’s close-range header.
Well missed an even better chance on 65 minutes, when the lively Gent crossed for Mika Biereth at the near post, with the striker unable to direct his effort on target.
County substitute Victor Loturi was inches from adding a fourth goal with his first touch, after he took aim from the edge of the box following a quick free-kick by Brown.
The Staggies continued to defend strongly, with Baldwin making an excellent goal-line clearance from Biereth to protect the shut-out.
The only blemish on County’s night came in stoppage time when Nightingale was shown a second yellow card in the space of just four minutes by referee David Dickinson.
ROSS COUNTY (3-4-2-1): Laidlaw 7; Nightingale 6, Baldwin 7, Leak 7; Brown 7, Randall 6 (Loturi 70), Allardice 7, Purrington 7; Dhanda 8 (Turner 76); Murray 8 (Samuel 86), White 7 (Sims 76).
Subs not used: Munro, Sheaf, Harmon, Samuel, Smith, Reid.
MOTHERWELL (3-4-1-2): Kelly 6; Casey 6, Mugabi 5 (Gent 46), Blaney 5 (Butcher 46 (Shaw 71)); Spencer 5, Slattery 6, Spittal 6, O’Donnell 5; Wilkinson 5 (Zdravkovski 46); Biereth 6, Bair 5 (Obika 58).
Subs not used: Oxborough, Wells, L Ross, M Ross.
Referee: David Dickinson
Star Man: Yan Dhanda