Ross County tasted defeat for the first time since Derek Adams’ return as they were hit by a quickfire St Mirren double early in the second half.
The Staggies had gone into the game high in confidence, following an unbeaten start in Adams’ first three matches since replacing Malky Mackay.
In their first away fixture following the change, the Staggies were well beaten by a slick Buddies side, courtesy of a Ryan Leak own goal and a Jonah Ayunga strike within the space of five minutes.
County’s haul of seven points from a possible nine under Adams ahead of the trip to Paisley included a home triumph over the Buddies, who had been 11 points clear of them prior to that encounter.
The Staggies had the opportunity to reduce that gap to just two points with a victory and although they were unable to capitalise, the fact they remain eighth in the table with five points separating them from the top half will give them plenty incentive to regain their form in the coming weeks.
Adams felt the Staggies’ performance dropped below the standard they have previously shown since he was appointed last month.
He said: “The first goal was always going to be pivotal in this game. St Mirren got it, quite rightly the VAR ruled it over the line.
“It was an own goal which came off one of our defenders, and just went into the back of the net.
“Over the afternoon I thought we started OK, we put St Mirren under a wee bit of pressure.
“We understood it was difficult for them as they were under a bit of pressure to get the win.
“They have been able to get their second win in eight games.
“We didn’t play as well as we have done in previous weeks. Coming away from home, it’s a venue which Ross County haven’t done as well at over the years.”
Will Nightingale’s suspension, following his late red card against Motherwell, forced Adams to make his first tweak to a steady backline which had kept three clean sheets on the bounce.
That provided an opening for teenager Dylan Smith, who was handed his first game time since October and with it an opportunity to catch the recently-appointed manager’s eye.
There were also returns to the bench for Jay Henderson and Eamonn Brophy following injury, which brings the Staggies ever closer to having a fully fit squad.
It was the Buddies who created the most significant chance of the early stages on 13 minutes when Jonah Ayunga strode past Staggies skipper Jack Baldwin before taking aim with a driven effort which Ross Laidlaw did well to tip over the bar.
County had a fine chance of their own just two minutes later, when James Brown’s corner was met at the near post by Jordan White who could not keep his header down.
The Staggies survived a let-off on 25 minutes with the home side pulling together a neat move which saw Stav Nahmani drive down the inside left channel before pulling back for Greg Kiltie, whose effort clipped the crossbar before bouncing to safety.
Nahmani tried his own luck after being released in a similar position on 34 minutes, with Laidlaw out quickly to block his effort.
St Mirren began to ramp up the pressure as the first half reached its latter stages, with Laidlaw called on to make an outstanding save to deny Ayunga who was broke through on goal following a neat exchange with Kiltie.
The second half got off to a rocky start for the Staggies, who were forced to shuffle their side when Smith limped off injured. The lack of central defensive options meant Adams had to change shape, with midfielder Kyle Turner brought on to facilitate a switch to a back four.
Just seconds later, the Buddies made the breakthrough following a corner which caused the visitors problems, with Leak appearing to bundle the ball over his own goal-line amidst the stramash.
Although the goal was not initially awarded, referee Calum Scott stopped a County breakaway in order to allow VAR to monitor the incident, which led to the home side being handed the advantage.
The Staggies could have fallen further behind moments later when Ryan Leak was dispossessed in a crucial area by Ayunga who in turn teed up Nahmani for what looked a certain goal with a pass which took Laidlaw out of the equation, however Baldwin got across to make a goal-saving block.
There was little doubt over the Paisley side’s second goal which arrived on 56 minutes.
The impressive Ayunga was played in down the left, before cutting inside and unleashing a strike which squirmed underneath the grasp of Laidlaw.
Adams quickly reverted to his original setup by bringing George Harmon on at wing back in place of Dhanda, with the Englishman crossing for Murray to send a header straight into the arms of Zach Hemming.
The Staggies were unfortunate not to pull a goal back on 79 minutes when Brown’s pinpoint cross picked out substitute Alex Samuel in the box, with Hemming making a stunning fingertip save to divert it over the crossbar.
A goal could have sparked a late rally, however in truth the destiny of the points did not look in much doubt by that stage.
ST MIRREN (3-4-1-2): Hemming 7; Fraser 6, Gogic 6, Taylor 6 (Dunne 64); Small 7 (Bolton 78), Boyd-Munce 3 (Baccus 18), O’Hara 6, Tanser 7; Kiltie 7; Ayunga 8 (Mandron 78), Nahmani 7 (Olusanya 78).
Subs not used: Urminsky, McMenamin, Greive, Jamieson.
ROSS COUNTY (3-4-1-2): Laidlaw 7; Smith 6 (Turner 51), Baldwin 7, Leak 6; Brown 7, Randall 6 (Sims 71), Allardice 6, Purrington 6; Dhanda 6 (Harmon 60); Murray 6, White 6 (Samuel 71).
Subs not used: Munro, Sheaf, Loturi, Henderson, Brophy.
Referee: Calum Scott
Star Man: Jonah Ayunga