Ross Stewart inspires Ross County to comeback victory after going behind in second half against Arbroath in Betfred Cup group tie
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Ross County 2 (Stewart x2)
Arbroath 1 (Hilson)
Ross Stewart's quickfire double in the second half helped Ross County claim all three points against Arbroath in the Betfred Cup group stage.
The forward scored his first goal of the season from open play to draw the Staggies level after Dale Hilson's brilliant free kick put the visitors in front.
Stewart was then given the opportunity to score what turned out to be the winner from the penalty spot after Regan Charles-Cook was taken down by Derek Gaston.
Arbroath looked energetic early on as the part-timers looked to rush County's defence inside their own half.
For the host's part, it looked like that could be a decent strategy as Coll Donaldson – reinstalled into the starting 11 at left-centre back after serving a suspension against Montrose – struggled to take the ball out of defence on his weaker foot.
So there was good and bad when Callum Morris was forced off injured in the 18th minute with an injury, as the left-footed Alex Iacovitti replaced him and immediately seemed to bring a better balance to the backline.
By that stage the Staggies will have felt they should have been ahead on the scoreboard through Ross Stewart.
Another returnee to the side Connor Randall was given time to pick out a cross on the right flank, but it was deflected and looped up towards an unmarked Stewart – who was only denied by a fantastic reaction stop by Derek Gaston.
Jermain Hylton had also gone inches away from opening the scoring when he latched onto a loose ball when referee Steven McLean played an advantage.
Hylton attempted to delicately lift the ball over Gaston, but his effort rolled just the wrong side of the post.
The former Motherwell man then very nearly turned provider, sending a low ball across the face of goal that Regan Charles-Cook was inches away from tapping in to the net.
Although Arbroath made life difficult for the home side, Ross Laidlaw had so little to do he returned to the pitch early before the second half to undergo another warm-up.
County looked like they were well-placed to put one hand on the points when Stewart's cross found Billy Mckay unmarked at the back post.
The Northern Irishman just about took the ball under control, but it was a slightly heavy touch and he ended up stretching to get an effort in on goal, which ended up well over the bar.
Arbroath would make him pay in the 49th minute, when Iacovitti's error put the Smokies in a position to win a free kick 25 yards out from goal.
Dale Hilson stepped up to take it, and promptly fired the ball into the top corner, past a Laidlaw at full stretch, to put the visitors in front.
From there the visitors seemed content to make life difficult for County and play on the counter attack, and the game did quieten down.
However, the lead did not last, and Ross Stewart scored a quickfire double to turn the game on it's head.
First, he connected with Randall's pinpoint cross at the back post, heading the ball down to bounce it into the net from close range.
Then in the 67th minute, Charles-Cook beat Gaston to the ball but was wiped out by the visiting goalkeeper, forcing McLean to point to the spot for a penalty.
Stewart stepped up to the spot, and coolly sent Gaston the wrong way to make it 2–1 to the Staggies.
Hilson looked the most likely to earn something from the game for the Red Lichties if he could add to his tally for the evening, but after a driving run into the box from the left wing his cross into the middle was wild, flying over everyone's heads.
The visitors did have one last golden chance to equalise in the 89th minute though, when on-loan Aberdeen forward Michael Ruth rose highest to head the ball towards goal – but his jump was ever so slightly mistimed and his effort went over the bar.