Ross County clearly chose to leave the spectacular long range goals until the penultimate game of the season, scraping by Hamilton Academical 2-1 and putting themselves in touching distance of Premiership survival. It was a match that was on a knife’s edge for the majority, and was decided completely on moments of individual quality.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
From the very beginning, it was clear that the Accies were prepared to fight for every inch, which they always are. Two bookings for Aaron Martin and Stephen Kelly respectively set the tone for a scrappy match.
Hamilton had the better of the first 10 minutes, and County struggled to escape their own half. This wasn’t helped by Jordan White having to drop deeper to challenge for long balls due to the wind blowing against Laidlaw’s goal kicks. The Staggies’ link up play on the ground wasn’t quite clicking either, and it was apparent that they would have to grind it out to get the three points.
The away side were really stamping their authority on the game. David Moyo wasn’t a direct scoring threat, but his hold up play and quality in the air gave every other Hamilton player an abundance of second balls to chase. They ended up with a free kick on the edge of Ross County’s penalty area, after Jordan Tillson naively bundled Scott McMann to the deck. McMann dusted himself off and struck the free kick low beside the wall and into the back of the Staggies net.
It was yet another example of County shooting themselves in the foot, but to their credit, they took the ball to the centre circle and sprung to life.
Dragging it forward
County hadn’t been playing well up to this point, so it makes sense it was a moment of individual quality out of nowhere that got them a rapid leveller. Jordan White held it up on the edge of the box, and laid it off to Blair Spittal. The former Partick Thistle loanee then proceeded to calmly hit it into the back of the net on his weaker left foot from the edge of the box. We have a lot to thank Spittal for, because after the equaliser the game took much the same pattern as it did before, and if not for his cutting edge it would probably have taken longer for the Staggies to pull it back.
County started the second half relatively well, and got the ball forward better. They were dealt a big blow though, when Alex Iacovitti succumbed to his first half hamstring problem and was unable to continue. On came Keith Watson in his place.
The game started to open up more, and before long it was moving from end to end. Scott McMann headed just over for the Accies, and Michael Gardyne skewed a shot just wide shortly after. Ross Callachan was next to go close with a header for Hamilton. Stephen Kelly rifled over for the Staggies.
Another County man was to fall victim to a first half injury, with Leo Hjelde having to come off with a knock. Charlie Lakin came on to replace him. Though he came on as an enforced substitute, the makeshift left back hit the match winner.
White found Lakin’s run down the left hand side, and the Birmingham loanee emphatically rifled a low shot into the bottom right hand corner from the edge of the box.
What everyone thinks of when they hear the name “Hamilton Academical” is how they always find a way. There were 20 minutes plus injury time to go after the Staggies took the lead, so the task was far from done. David Moyo had a chance to draw the Accies level with a header, but his effort was over. County were pushed deeper and deeper into their own half. Their defending was frantic but remained solid. Harry Paton and Regan Charles-Cook entered the fray in place of Michael Gardyne and Blair Spittal for some much needed freshness.
A barrage of Hamilton corners caused some nervy moments for County, and Ross Laidlaw had to be alert to catch numerous crosses. Thankfully, the away side never quite managed to force a save out of the Staggies keeper, and all of a sudden, County found themselves on the break through Harry Paton. The Canadian drove down the left hand side, and only had the keeper to beat, but his left footed effort only found the side netting. It was nerve wracking as he could have sealed the match there and then, but County continued to work hard and made sure Hamilton didn’t get one last chance. The final whistle blew, and the relegation battle remains in the Staggies’ hands going into the final day. Unfortunately for the Accies, they’re now all but relegated.
Ross County are within touching distance of safety. The only way now that Kilmarnock can catch them is if they beat Hamilton on the final day, and if the Staggies fall to defeat against Motherwell. This is far from out of the question. County have one last job to do- get at least a draw down at Fir Park on Saturday, and they won’t have a playoff to contend with. It’s a tough task, but they now have the momentum of two wins behind them.
It’s time for them to show they belong with the top dogs.