Ross County open Premiership campaign with a scoreless draw after surviving penalty scare against St Johnstone
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Ross County (0) 0 St Johnstone (0) 0
St Johnstone, after cup heroics last season, were given the freedom of their home city of Perth.
It was testament to the greater solidity that Malky Mackay is working to bring to Ross County that the visiting side got precious little of the stuff in and around the home penalty area.
County, last season, could always guarantee a goal – but all too often it came against them.
Saints, bound for Istanbul and a clash with Galatasaray in the Europa League on Thursday, found precious little space to punish a side that had shipped 66 goals in the Premiership last season.
While Ali McCann fluffed a penalty for Saints, it was a poor day for both sides in front of goal.
It was a decent start, though, for a County side still with four or five signings in the pipeline.
Scotland’s double cup-winners were playing competitively for the first time since completing that historic feat against Hibs at Hampden Park 70 days before.
Saints came north without injured Craig Bryson, with Manchester United loanee Reece Devine earning a debut at left wing-back.
The hosts were looking to build on two League Cup group victories over Brora and Montrose, with the club’s Covid-19 outbreak having wiped out two ties.
Malky Mackay’s first home league match in charge made it a clean slate for a Staggies squad still being rebuilt after 15 departures.
But they were looking for a first Dingwall win against the Perth side in nine visits.
Mackay gave ex-Gillingham frontman Dom Samuel his league debut.
‘We’re gonna to win the league’, was one of the Saints’ fans' early tongue-in-cheek chants, suggesting expectations on manager Callum Davidson’s shoulders may not be quite as realistic as he hoped.
The presence of two sets of supporters cranked up the adrenaline and energy levels, but it was a poor first half hour.
County created a couple of early aerial chances with new captain Keith Watson and Charles Regan-Cook both heading wide.
Saints retaliated with young Devine grasping the chance to drive forward and fire low but just wide from 20 yards.
It was messy stuff and a head clash between defender Watson and Saints striker Callum Hendry gave both managers the chance to issue some fresh instructions.
County’s best first half chance came after 35 minutes.
Coll Donaldson tore forward and played through Ross Callachan to the right.
The summer signing from Hamilton might have been caught in two minds as he drove low and wide of the far post, with Samuel crying out for a better angle.
Turning towards their own fans, the visitors finally mustered a serious second half threat after 63 minutes when Ali McCann surged into the side of the area, but was shut down by Donaldson.
The latter defender was at the heart of controversy inside 70 minutes.
As Devine tried to drag the ball back from the bye-line just inside the left side of the box, Donaldson appeared to catch him.
County were incensed as referee Colin Steven pointed to the spot, but Saints Ali McCann stepped up and fired wildly over the bar from the spot.
County escaped another scare with six minutes left as substitute Stevie May saw his low strike from 18 yards touched onto the post by keeper Ross Laidlaw.
Fellow sub Liam Craig slid onto the rebound at a tight angle but struck the post close in.
There was heavy St Johnstone pressure towards full-time, with a succession of corners, with May flicking a header over the bar from one.
ROSS COUNTY (3-5-2) - Laidlaw; Donaldson, Watson, Iacovitti; Randall, Tillson, Callachan, Spittal (Paton 68), Charles-Cook; White, Samuel (Shaw 64). Subs: Munro, Robertson, Wright, Williamson, MacLeman.
Booked: White 29, Samuel 52, Spittal 67
ST JOHNSTONE (3-5-2) - Clark; Kerr, Gordon, McCart; Rooney, McCann, Davidson, Wotherspoon (Craig 83), Devine; O’Halloran (Kane 76), Hendry (May 76). Subs: Parish, Muller, Brown, Ballantyne.
Booking: Rooney 71
Referee: Colin Steven