WHEN Derek Adams and Danny Lennon shared a cup of coffee together after this steaming hot football contest, you suspect faces etched in fury only minutes earlier soon cracked into smiles and laughter.
SCORERS: Ross County - Arquin 38, De Leeuw 83; St Mirren - McGinn 66
The pair are friends from earlier in their careers but were sent to the stand as tempers exploded late on after a Jim Goodwin head-clash with eventual match-winner Melvin De Leeuw. Adams evidently felt the act was a premeditated one by a player of unfortunate repute. Lennon clearly disagreed, as did referee Willie Collum who both then, and in a similar first half incident between Goodwin and Filip Kiss, kept cards in pocket.
St Mirren’s fifth straight defeat saw County leapfrog them into ninth place, while Partick Thistle’s victory over Aberdeen had Saints plummeting down into the dreaded play-off spot.
In all fairness, it was a game County deserved to win but one where wastefulness in front of goal might easily have cost them dearly.
On-loan Notts County striker Yoann Arquin headed the opener seven minutes before the break, but, in an otherwise strong display, was to fluff three more decent chances.
County defender Yann Songo’o also blew two in front of goal, allowing John McGinn to fire St Mirren level against the run of play. It fell to Goodwin’s second alleged victim, De Leeuw, to emerge with the last laugh with a fine finish near the end.
“I scored the winning goal and it was a good feeling to do that in the circumstances,” the 25-year-old former SC Cambuur striker said.
“We thoroughly deserved to win the match and it is a huge three points for Ross County.”
De Leeuw had jabbed a finger at the grounded Goodwin after the incident and clearly felt Scottish football’s supposed bad boy had been at it. “It was an unfair challenge, and not just because it was on me – I was unhappy about both that one and the one on Filip Kiss in the first half,” de Leeuw stressed.
It proved an open, attacking start to the game, with both clubs adventurous, but increasingly through the first half County gained control.
On-loan Blackburn Rovers defender Songo’o fluffed two great opportunities in the first 20 minutes from deliveries into the box.
St Mirren, too, created some good openings. Mark Brown had to make a strong diving block from Gregg Wylde after the lively Kenny McLean set him free to the left of the box. After 13 minutes, McLean also let rip with a swerving 30-yard strike that Brown leapt dramatically to tip over the bar.
County’s breakthrough, then, was deserved when it came after 38 minutes. Michael Tidser won the ball from Eric Djemba-Djemba in the thick of midfield and then took a return pass from Jordan Slew. Tidser’s cross from the left was then met by an Arquin header that looped high in the air before dropping behind Marian Kello for the opener.
Djemba-Djemba was hauled off by a concerned Saints boss Danny Lennon at the break, with the mobile attacking threat of Paul McGowan preferred – and instrumental in an upturn for the visitors.
But it was County who regained the initiative – and should have doubled the lead almost immediately.
Richard Brittain cut determinedly in from the right and squared to Slew for a first time shot blocked by Kello. With the keeper grounded and in trouble, Arquin’s hesitancy on the rebound allowed the Slovak to make a second save.
County were made to pay after 65 minutes when Wylde’s corner was half-cleared by Erik Cikos. McGinn collected and drove past two County men across the edge of the box. With power from just inside the area, McGinn buried a fine shot high past Brown.
There was fury in both technical areas over the second Goodwin incident, but De Leeuw’s revenge was sweet. Arquin sliced in on the left and slid the ball across for De Leeuw to execute with a measured smash into the roof of the net from 12 yards. Arquin fluffed another stoppage time chance after good skill was followed by a wayward strike over the bar.
Lennon expressed disappointment at himself for being dragged into the touchline fracas.
“It’s a passionate game. Derek wants the best for his side, I want the best for mine. Nothing more than that. I’m actually disappointed in myself to be sucked into that. I didn’t think there was a lot in it, but, as I say, it’s a very passionate game.
“That’s Jim’s game. He competes fantastically well. There was nothing in it. He went to win the ball and he now has a big egg on his head.”
As for his own dismissal, Adams chose his words carefully. He said: “It was a big game for both sides and emotions ran high. But Danny and I had a cup of tea and coffee afterwards and there is not a problem. It’s the nature of the business we’re in.”