Ross County see out comfortable victory against Stirling Albion to win Betfred Cup group
Get a digital copy of the Ross-shire Journal delivered straight to your inbox every week
Ross County 3 (Shaw, Stewart, Charles-Cook)
Stirling Albion 0
Ross County made sure their name would go into the hat for the second round of the Betfred Cup as group winners after sealing a 3–0 win at home against Stirling Albion.
It was a more even start to the game than many would have expected, with mistakes in the County backline giving their visitors the chance to push up the pitch.
Indeed, it was Stirling who had the first real attempt at goal in the match as Dominic Docherty's shot was deflected behind for a corner.
The Staggies have shown that they are susceptible to mistakes at the back when teams press them deep into their own half, and Iain Vigurs – restored to the starting 11 – and Josh Reid both gave the ball away at times.
Stirling did not take advantage of the territory they were earning though, and it was County who went ahead instead.
Man of the moment Oli Shaw found the back of the net for the fourth game running in the 20th minute, volleying into the bottom corner after striker partner Ross Stewart had battled to knock down a high ball into the box from Vigurs.
Stewart had the chance to double the lead himself a couple of minutes later, rising highest to meet Regan Charles-Cook's corner but heading over the bar.
At the other end, Ross Laidlaw only had a simple save to make from Declan Byrne in a move that started with a lovely turn from Kurtis Roberts to leave Reid behind.
County suffered a big blow five minutes before half time though when Shaw pulled up with what looked like a groin issue, forcing the goalscorer to be replaced by Billy Mckay.
That did not seem to faze them tough, and some patient play at the start of the second half was rewarded when Stewart won a penalty.
Laidlaw's long ball up the pitch was taken down by the forward, who was then tripped by Jordan McGregor inside the box.
He stepped up himself, and though Cameron Binnie guessed the right way and got a solid hand to the ball, he could not keep it out as Stewart made it 2–0.
Stirling struggled to maintain their pressing as the match went on, and so the Staggies became the dominant side on the ball.
Mckay went inches wide of the post before Reid went even closer, hitting the frame of the goal.
Jermaine Hylton would then have fancied his chances from close-range after linking up with Charles-Cook, only for Binnie to make the save with his feet.
Charles-Cook did finally make it 3–0 in the 72nds minute though, cutting inside from the right wing and curling the ball low into the far corner from outside the box.
It was an impressive spell for the former Gillingham attacker, as the next minute he got on the ball again and sent a cross in towards Mckay, who was stooping to head the ball and could only force his effort over the bar.
Hylton then found himself one-on-one with Binnie, and though the Stirling stopper slightly lost his footing as the Staggies attacker approached, he still did enough to block the shot.
Stuart Kettlewell took the opportunity, with his side comfortably ahead, to give the youngsters on his bench minutes on the pitch – as well as the returning Callum Morris.
One of those young players nearly made it four right as the 90 minutes came up, as Matthew Wright showed brilliant control to take a chipped ball down, before lifting it over Binnie only to be denied by the crossbar.
Instead, County had to settle for the 3–0 win that guaranteed top spot in Group D of the Betfred Cup, and give them a chance of being seeded for the second round draw tomorrow afternoon.