They’ve left it late and they’ve done it the hard way, but Ross County have secured their Scottish Premiership status for next season. It ended up being the two players with the most appearances scoring for the Staggies, with Iain Vigurs and Michael Gardyne completing the scoring after Motherwell took an early lead.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
Playing on Hard Mode
Motherwell were noticeably the better team in the opening exchanges. Their snappy passing caused County all sorts of issues, and the Staggies were struggling to pull together any moves of their own. Carl Tremarco in particular was really struggling- it was clear on his return from injury that he wasn’t match fit. It was down the Scouse left backs’ side that the Steelmen created their goal. It was fizzed across the box by Jake Hastie, deflected off of Ross Laidlaw and bundled in off of Sam Foley.
It was a disaster start for County, especially since Kilmarnock went 1-0 up against Hamilton. Just like Wednesday though, the Staggies sorted themselves out after conceding.
Though County were never back on level terms in the first half, they played very well and should have taken the chances they created. Blair Spittal put in a brilliant cross which either Gardyne or White should have tucked home. Another ball fell to White who smashed it against the crossbar with a volley. Stephen Kelly should have tested Liam Kelly from close range.
After this flurry though, Motherwell came back into things, and limited County. It’s clear to see how well drilled they’ve become under Graham Alexander. The final thing of note during the first half was Carl Tremarco finally giving in to his injuries and having to be replaced by Charlie Lakin. It was a shame for Tremarco who is a great player when fully fit.
When we needed them most…
Iain Vigurs needs a special mention. He’s taken so much criticism (some deserved, some harsh) over the course of the season, but post-split, the skipper has been ever-present for County. He consistently seamlessly links defence and attack, and today, came up with the goods. Running into the final third, playing a one two with Stephen Kelly, and curling a beauty into the top corner not only got County level, but set an example for the rest of the team.
It didn’t take long after Vigurs’ equaliser for the Staggies to take the lead, and this time, it was another club legend who put it in the back of the net. Jordan White tenaciously kept the ball in the Motherwell half, and slipped the ball through to the all time appearances holder and goalscorer, Michael Gardyne. Our number 7 calmly finished past Liam Kelly, and wheeled away to celebrate like he has done in a Ross County shirt so many times.
The Staggies had a two goal cushion- the only way they could have been dragged into the playoff at that point was to concede twice. They didn’t look anything like doing this. In fact they should have been 3-1 up through Stephen Kelly. The Rangers loanee found himself in acres of space on the penalty spot, but missed the ball entirely with his attempted finish. Earlier in the season, this would have been a moment that County looked back on with anguish, but they continued to look like they deserved to be ahead, which they did.
Seeing out 20/21
In a game with such high stakes for the Staggies, it was a relief that the closing 20 minutes had very little to offer in terms of entertainment to the neutral. The Steelmen largely controlled it through possession play, but only really threatened through a flurry of set pieces.
John Hughes was clearly happy with how his men were playing, as his only unenforced substitution was bringing on Regan Charles-Cook for the tiring Michael Gardyne. The final whistle of the season blew, and the job was done. There was a look of relief on the face of every County player- all their hard work had paid off, they didn’t have to go into a 2 legged tie against a dangerous Dundee side.
Work needs to be done next season to ensure the Staggies don’t flirt with relegation so closely, but for now, it’s time to celebrate.