County claim vital first home win of the season over cup heroes Hibs
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Ross County (0) 1
Hibernian (0) 0
Scorer: Spittal 73
Ross County grasped a vital three points and a first home win of the season after turning Hibs' Hampden heaven into a spot of hell in the Highlands
A rather bizarre and fortuitous Blair Spittal winner sank the Edinburgh side to their fifth straight league defeat as the fireworks they produced at the national stadium against Rangers fizzled out in the Dingwall drizzle.
County’s game in hand was cashed in, earning them a second win of the campaign and taking the bottom of the table side to within a point of nearest foes Dundee.
Chances of recovery for the Easter Road side were dashed by a senseless red card for Christian Doidge late on.
County made a single change from their last outing, the creditable 4-2 defeat to champions Rangers at Ibrox.
Jordan White, who netted a fine goal that day, replaced Jack Burroughs in the Staggies’ starting line-up.
County’s issue in the build-up had been a lack of matches.
The Rangers defeat was the Dingwall side’s only 90 minutes in almost a month since battering Dundee 5-1 at Dens Park to break a run of 10 winless league games.
It was a dreich night in Dingwall, although rain eased before kick-off. The Global Energy Stadium pitch, with only five prior home league games so far this season, was pristine and perfect for the contest.
There was much heat and steam, and little of worth, from both sides in the opening 12 minutes before Sunday’s hat-trick man Martin Boyle burst away on the right.
The Australia international’s pace took him surging away from Connor Randall and his cross was perfectly hung up in the air for Kevin Nisbet.
Square on goal, the Scotland striker’s downward header went straight into the arms of goalkeeper Ash Maynard-Brewer.
A couple of minutes later, Chris Cadden found space to the right of the box and a similarly dangerous delivery found Nisbet powering another header at goal, this time wide of the right hand post.
Those two chances were warning enough for the hosts, but they reacted well.
Cadden gave away a handball 30 yards out on the left and Joseph Hungo whipped in a terrific free-kick.
White, meeting it eight yards out, really should have scored with his head but glanced just wide of the left hand upright.
The game was crying out for a little bit of guile and composure.
Hibs maybe sensed it as their best move of the first half, 11 minutes from the break, saw the ball zipped about at pace to slice County open.
Boyle found Cadden on the right, and then the latter’s low-swept pass was struck first time by Paul Hanlon against the outside of the County post from 14 yards.
Most of Hibs’ best play did come down the right, with Cadden and Boyle linking well and County’s Randall, a right-back covering at left-back, up against it frequently.
The second half opened with the hosts taking the early initiative - and having a penalty claim waved away.
Manager Malky Mackay was certainly convinced an award was due as Harry Paton’s forward ball was flicked into the box by White, before Hungbo went down after Doig’s bump from behind.
Boyle also found space for a low drive from the edge of the box which Charlton loanee keeper Maynard-Brewer was sharp down to smother.
Hibs also had to work hard defensively at times against the fifth highest scorers in the league, with wide men Hungbo and Regan Charles-Cook always lively.
Toward the hour mark, Boyle’s explosive pace again caused trouble for the hosts, before Josh Campbell’s lay-off found Nisbet drilling a shot low, but again straight at Maynard-Brewer.
Doidge, back fit for the first time since August, added to his substitute minutes against Rangers as a 67th minute replacement for the mostly ineffective Nisbet.
It was County who threatened next though, with Hungbo’s right foot attempt from sharp right of the box pushed for a corner beyond the far post by the stretching Matt Macey.
County have rued their luck at times this season, but the bizarre 73rd minute breakthrough held a healthy dose of the stuff.
Substitute Blair Spittal’s first touch was a low cross from the left that went through a cluster of legs and deceived goalkeeper Matt Macey before nestling in the far corner of the net.
Moments after the restart, Hungbo intercepted a reckless, miscued pass from the jittery Macey and should have tucked away a second, but curled the attempt high over the bar.
Hibs were in serious trouble with six minutes left after substitute Doidge took a straight red card for a studs-up challenge on County’s David Cancola.
It was tense towards the end but victory was huge for County and manager Mackay.
Ross County (4-2-3-1) - Maynard-Brewer 6; Clarke 7, Baldwin 7, Iacovitti 7, Randall 6; Tillson 7 (Cancola 62, 5), Paton 6; Hungbo 7, Callachan 6, Charles-Cook 7 (Spittal 72, 5); White 6 (Watson 82, 3). Subs not used: Laidlaw, Vokins, Cancola, Spittal, D. Samuel, Robertson, Watson.
Booked: Randall 36, Tillson 44
Hibernian (3-5-2) - Macey 6; McGinn 6, McGregor 6, Hanlon 6; Cadden 7, Doyle-Hayes 6, Campbell 7 (Allan 76, 4), Newell 6, Doig 7 (Gullan 82, 2); Nisbet 6 (Doidge 67, 5), Boyle 7. Subs not used: Dabrowski, Wright, Gogic, Stevenson.
Booked: Nisbet 16,
Red: Doidge 84
Referee: Gavin Duncan