Ross County came from behind from behind for the second time in as many games, to secure a thoroughly deserved victory against Kilmarnock – on a night midfielder Michael Gardyne made Staggies history.
Gardyne’s double took him on to 60 goals across his four spells with the Highlanders, enough for him to overtake Sean Higgins as the club’s record goalscorer since County entered the Scottish football league in 1994.
County had been in firm control by the time Craig Curran’s seventh goal of the season put them ahead, with their domination indicating further goals would soon follow.
The Staggies’ failure to find a second goal came back to haunt them however, with Tope Obadeyi levelling on 33 minutes, before former Aberdeen forward Josh Magennis’ capitalised on poor defending to complete the turnaround shortly after the break.
Within nine minutes though, County were back in front thanks to Gardyne’s two excellent strikes. The victory gives the Staggies added breathing space in fifth place, and they now trail fourth-placed St Johnstone by just a point.
County came into the game on the back of a morale-boosting 5-2 victory against Dundee on Saturday, with manager Jim McIntyre making two changes from the side that started three days previously. Jackson Irvine, who scored with his first touch after coming on as a substitute against the Dark Blues, was drafted in, along with Scott Boyd, with Stewart Murdoch and Chris Robertson dropping out.
Killie had been in desperate search of a victory, until Saturday’s 1-0 triumph against Hamilton Accies ended a run of seven games without a win, and moved them 10 points clear of rock-bottom Dundee United. Unsurprisingly, Gary Locke kept faith with the same starting line-up for the trip to the Highlands.
In Liam Boyce, the Staggies possessed a player rocket-fuelled by his weekend hat-trick against the Dees, which took him on to 17 goals for the campaign. An important few months lie ahead for the attacker, who is hoping to consolidate his place in Northern Ireland’s squad for the European Champions in France this summer, and within the opening minute of last night’s action he was close to adding another goal to his tally, when his close-range attempt from Michael Gardyne’s delivery forced goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald into action, before midfielder Jonathan Franks saw his volley deflected wide by defender Stuart Findlay moments later.
The Staggies kept up the pressure, with skipper Andrew Davies nodding over, Boyce sending a snapshot wide, and Curran shooting straight into the arms of MacDonald after being released by his effervescent attacking partner.
It was one-way traffic, and only a matter of time before the Staggies found a breakthrough. Their persistence was rewarded on 12 minutes, when Irvine weighted a delightful pass down the inside-left channel to release Gardyne, whose delivery was bundled home from point-blank range by Curran, despite MacDonald’s best efforts.
County continued to enjoy sustained spells of possession in the Killie half, and Gardyne had a close-range attempt blocked by Conrad Balatoni after being teed up by Boyce.
At the other end, Killie’s attacking threat was virtually non-existent, until Obadeyi offered his side’s first attempt on 26 minutes, with a low drilled effort that went harmlessly wide.
That move appeared to spark the visitors into life, as they pulled level six minutes later. Obadeyi was again the player involved, jinking inside past Jamie Reckord before beating goalkeeper Scott Fox at his near post with a crisp low drive.
Kilmarnock began the second-half brightly, and turned the game on its head less than three minutes after the interval. Having netted from their first shot on target, Gary Locke’s side did likewise from their first corner of the game, as Steven Smith’s low delivery was met by the left foot of Magennis, who took advantage of poor marking to steer past Scott Fox from 10 yards.
Following County’s excellent start, they had quickly found themselves in what seemed an unfathomable losing position. Their response was perfect however, with Gardyne being set up by a crisp pass from his former Killie team-mate Irvine, who drilled a powerful angled strike across MacDonald and into the bottom-left corner to make it 2-2.
Having restored parity, Gardyne showed he was firmly in the mood by netting from an almost identical position to put his side ahead once again. This time he was released by Boyce’s pass, before cutting past Killie right back O’Hara and fizzing a low strike home.
Boyce saw his low effort palmed away by MacDonald in the latter stages, as County pressed for a killer fourth goal, however County held on for a deserved win.