Ross County stunned Dundee United with a gutsy and impressive 2-0 win at Tannadice to lift themselves out of the Premiership drop zone on goal difference.
This shock victory, allied with Kilmarnock losing 2-0 at Motherwell, means 10th-placed County are one point clear of Killie but only three ahead of rock-bottom Hamilton, who surprisingly won 2-1 at St Mirren.
Jordan White’s and Alex Iocovitti goals midway through the first half put the Highlanders in control.
County have been hitting the wrong sort of form at the worst possible time, losing four of their last five matches in all competitions before this one, with the 3-1 defeat by St Mirren recently pushing them into the relegation play-off position.
In contrast, their energised hosts are into next week’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibs. That was their reward for a superb 3-0 win at Aberdeen six days ago in the Granite City.
United had won five of their last six games and had a maximum haul of nine points against the Staggies this season, although John Hughes had only been in charge of County for the last one, which was a 2-0 Dingwall defeat in February.
Home manager Micky Mellon kept total faith with the 11 who began against the Dons, while Keith Watson, Ross Draper and Billy Mckay dropped to the bench for County. Coll Donaldson, Sean Kelly and Blair Spittal were handed starting shirts.
County’s last win at Tannadice was a 5-1 roasting on the way to winning the Championship two seasons ago. While that was fun for the Dingwall side, they don’t want to be dropping back down a division.
United began on the front foot and forced an early corner. Referee Kevin Clancy frustrated Hughes by asking defender Iacovitti to go off for treatment ahead of the set-piece. Thankfully for County, it came to nothing.
Jordan Tillson was the first visiting player to test goalkeeper Deniz Mehmet, forcing a diving save from an angled drive from the right side of the pitch. The corner didn’t bring any rewards, however.
Moments later, Kelly drove a shot into the side-netting after clever work from Michael Gardyne, who found a route into the box.
Their pressing got its rewards though on 24 minutes when Spittal collected a pass from Gardyne and his cross was thumped home by the head of striker White.
Moments later, County’s advantage was doubled when White knocked on a Spittal corner and Iacovitti got just enough on it to get it over the line.
What a great position for County, although news filtered through that basement side Hamilton were 1-0 at St Mirren.
A needless foul by Iain Vigurs afforded Nicky Clark to have a free-kick go from 25 yards, but it flew harmlessly over the bar as United looked a shadow of the side that impressed so much six days previously at this point.
Mellon made several second half switches in a bid to spark a revival, but County were more than holding their own. They almost added a third when substitute Regan Charles-Cook went close after Kelly’s effort was pushed on to the post by Mehmet.
With the Scottish Cup in the spotlight next weekend, County have to wait until Wednesday, May 12 for their penultimate match of a troubled campaign when Hamilton visit Victoria Park, just four days before the finish at Motherwell.
No matter what unfolded here at Tannadice, County were always going to be almost certainly needing full points from those final two matches.