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Ross County to face repeat of play-off drama after 2-2 draw with Aberdeen sees Staggies pipped to automatic survival by St Johnstone

Saints' victory over Motherwell meant County needed all three points against the Dons to clinch safety.

Ross County midfielder Yan Dhanda. Image: SNS
Ross County midfielder Yan Dhanda. Image: SNS

Ross County must negotiate a Premiership play-off showdown for a second successive season after their final day 2-2 draw with Aberdeen saw them fall short of automatic survival.

St Johnstone, whose late leveller against the Staggies in midweek kept them in with a chance of avoiding the play-off, came up with the victory they needed against Motherwell.

Survival remained in County’s own hands, but after making the perfect start through Simon Murray’s opener, goals from Ester Sokler and Jamie McGrath swung the game in the Dons’ favour.

County were handed a lifeline midway through the second half against Aberdeen when Angus MacDonald was sent off and Yan Dhanda converted the subsequent penalty.

Ross County interim manager Don Cowie. Image: SNS.

Don Cowie’s men rallied against the 10 men, however, they failed to capitalise on a raft of chances to net the all-important winner in the latter stages.

It means they will now face Raith Rovers over two legs in an effort to secure their top-flight status, with the Dons ending the campaign in seventh place.

County made one enforced change from the side who drew with St Johnstone in midweek, with James Brown replacing the sidelined Michee Efete.

The Dons recalled first choice goalkeeper Kelle Roos from the side who defeated Livingston 5-1, with Duk, Dante Polvara and James McGarry also dropping out in place of Jamie McGrath, Leighton Clarkson and Jack MacKenzie. That meant leading scorer Bojan Miovski was once again among the substitutes.

The Staggies created a golden chance to take the lead after just three minutes when Simon Murray’s flick-on put Jordan White through on goal, however, Roos was out sharply to block his effort.

County were not to be thwarted just two minutes later, though. Connor Randall’s delivery from the right was partially cut out by Angus MacDonald, but landed with Murray, who took an excellent touch to tee him up for a crisp low finish into Roos’ far corner.

Simon Murray celebrates netting against Aberdeen. Image: Shutterstock.

Aberdeen took time to settle into the game,  but they offered a glimmer of their threat on 14 minutes when a Junior Hoilett free-kick forced a fine fingertip save from Ross Laidlaw.

Despite County’s strong start, news of St Johnstone’s breakthrough at Fir Park drew a nervous reaction around Victoria Park, as it reinforced the importance of the Staggies holding on to their lead.

The Dons mounted spells of pressure, with Clarkson seeing a free-kick well blocked by the wall, before the midfielder forced an excellent clawed save from Laidlaw following an incisive attacking move.

The Reds equalised on 33 minutes. A corner broke to Connor Barron, who waltzed his way into the box, before crossing for Sokler to thump a header home.

Ester Sokler celebrates scoring against Ross County. Image: SNS.

County were struggling to fashion attacking opportunities, with Aberdeen’s movement causing them problems on the break. With Saints adding a second goal on the stroke of half-time, the atmosphere became noticeably subdued.

The Staggies began the second half on the front foot, with Connor Randall unable to hit the target after being played in by Dhanda.

However, Aberdeen turned the game on its head on 51 minutes, with Hoilett cutting the ball back for McGrath to tuck home.

Jamie McGrath celebrates after netting against Ross County. Image: SNS.

The Dons looked to have added a third just four minutes later when Hoilett’s effort came back off the post before being bundled home by Sokler – but a lengthy VAR check ruled it out for offside.

Cowie made his first change on the hour mark, with Ryan Leak making way for Victor Loturi in a switch to a back four to bolster the midfield.

The Staggies were handed a lifeline from nowhere on 64 minutes when Nicky Devlin attempted to cut out Dhanda’s crossfield pass, but only succeeded in teeing up White, who was bundled to the ground by MacDonald.

Referee Chris Graham pointed to the spot and sent MacDonald off for making no attempt to play the ball and denying a goalscoring opportunity. After this was confirmed by the VAR checks, Dhanda held his composure to send Roos the wrong way.

Yan Dhanda celebrates netting against Aberdeen. Image: SNS.

It prompted a reshuffle from Aberdeen interim boss Peter Leven, with Slobodan Rubezic and Duk replacing Sokler and Clarkson.

The Staggies threw everything at the visitors, with Murray denied by Roos and Will Nightingale seeing a strike deflected on to the crossbar.

Eli King tried his luck after being picked out by Dhanda from a short corner, but sent his strike just over, while Dhanda saw another free-kick gathered by Roos.

Nightingale was once again inches away when his header from a Dhanda free-kick struck the post, before White bundled over from close-range.

County ultimately ran out of steam, meaning they must now lift themselves for the tie against Raith.

Player Ratings

ROSS COUNTY (3-4-1-2): Laidlaw 6; Nightingale 7, Baldwin 7, Leak 6 (Loturi 60); Brown 7 (Sims 80), Randall 8, King 7, Harmon 7 (Brophy 87); Dhanda 7; Murray 7, White 7.

Subs not used: Wickens, Callachan, Sims, Loturi, Henderson, Khela, Brophy, Ayina, Reid.

ABERDEEN (4-3-3): Roos 6; Devlin 6, Gartenmann 6, MacDonald 5, MacKenzie 6 (Jensen 78); Clarkson 7 (Duk 66), Barron 7, Shinnie 7; McGrath 7, Sokler 7 (Rubezic 66), Hoilett 8 (Miovski 78).

Subs not used: Doohan, Duk, McGarry, Morris, Milne, Rubezic, Boyd.

Referee: Chris Graham
Attendance: 6,119
Man of the Match: Connor Randall