Ross County claimed a scrappy 1-0 victory against Hibs in the bitter cold of Dingwall, where there was very little to split the two teams.
Substitute Blair Spittal stepped up to curl in the winner. Christian Doidge was sent off for a lunge on David Cancola, and Boyle followed him for aggressive behaviour after the final whistle drew a halt to proceedings.
Kevin Nisbet almost continued right where the Hibees left off, nodding man of the moment Martin Boyle’s cross into the grateful arms of Ashley Maynard-Brewer when he really should have burst the net from close range. Chris Cadden then put in a tantalising ball from the same side, but it was Josh Doig’s turn to miss, this time heading wide.
Headed chances were coming thick and fast, and Joseph Hungbo engineered one for Ross County, floating in an inch-perfect free-kick from the left. Jordan White timed his run to perfection, but his header from the six-yard line went inexplicably past the post.
Paul Hanlon stayed up in the aftermath of a corner in a spell of Hibs dominance and struck the post in a goalmouth scramble where the Staggies failed to clear their lines and nearly paid the ultimate price. Up at the other end, Jordan White took a brilliant touch on his chest 15 yards out but scuffed a feeble effort that was simply catching practise for Matt Macey.
In the early stages of the second half County had a penalty shout when Hungbo went down in the box under pressure from Doig. Referee Gavin Duncan deemed the incident too soft to point to the spot however, and waved play on.
Boyle nearly produced yet another moment of magic. Nisbet let a Cadden cross run across the box, and Boyle took a touch into the air. His subsequent volley was menacing, but Maynard-Brewer watched it all the way into his gloves. Nisbet then had a volley held from the other side of the area.
Hungbo looked most likely in a County shirt to cause Hibs problems. He had the beating of Doig, and cut across the young defender to give himself the space to fire off a curling shot that Macey had to look sharp to tip wide.
The Staggies pressed forward from this promise, earning the lead in a “it doesn’t matter how you score them” fashion. Blair Spittal, having just come on for Regan Charles-Cook, fired in a cross that evaded both White and Macey in the middle and went all the way in.
County then passed up a golden opportunity to double their advantage- Macey gave the ball away to Hungbo, and the winger only had to chip it over the former Arsenal keeper, but had his head in his hands a moment later as he saw his shot over the bar and into the Jailend.
It went from bad to worse for Hibs against bottom of the league opposition as substitute Christian Doidge, on for Nisbet, went with his studs up into the stomach of fellow sub David Cancola. The Welshman received his marching orders, and Hibs went down to ten men.
Spittal had a chance to wrap it up, playing a technical one-two with Ross Callachan that sent him bursting through on goal. The Staggies scorer then had a moment to forget, putting it over the stand and out of the stadium.
Ross County didn’t make it comfortable, Harry Clarke the next to spurn a one on one opportunity, having his side-footed finish palmed out of harm’s way by Macey.
Martin Boyle was shown a red for aggressive behaviour towards the referee after the final whistle, but the Staggies will look back on a potentially season-defining three points. Here are three things we learned.
Despite their league position, the Staggies once again showed that they can trade punches with most sides in the league, dealing with most periods of pressure well and creating enough chances to be considered “in the game”, before nabbing a goal to break the deadlock. After Doidge’s sending off, they missed a number of chances that would have been enough to win a whole nother game, but the final whistle blew, giving them a desperately needed three points that keeps them within touching distance of Dundee in the relegation dogfight.
Hibs put a lot into this match, and cannot be accused of having their heads in the clouds after their famous 3-1 semi final triumph over Rangers. Things just wouldn’t drop the way they wanted them to, and they looked bereft of creativity minus a flurry of headers soon after the match started. They must dust themselves off for their upcoming clash against St. Johnstone, lest they return to a run of performances similar to those that saw some sections of the Hibees support wish to see the back of Jack Ross.
Perhaps partly because of the bitter cold, this match never really got going. Both sides had their chances, but it was an oddly subdued affair uncharacteristic of the two sets of players. This might have been what helped County get this result, as the Hibees couldn’t flex their muscles and show their quality. Spittal’s winner came with a huge stroke of luck, which was fitting given the patterns of this contest.
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