ROSS County know they will be going some to set the recent exploits of near-neighbours Inverness Caley Thistle in the shade this season. It was hard enough yesterday to take centre stage in their own backyard.
The attraction of a new season and new-look Staggies squad was weighed against a vast agricultural attendance along the road at the Black Isle Show and an 18,000 throng attending the nearby Belladrum festival, where the Kaiser Chiefs were headlining.
That said, all the right notes were struck by County in a highly-encouraging first home outing.
It was a day when the musical theme extended to a surprise celebrity appearance in the crowd. Sir Tim Rice, the famed theatre lyricist of Chess and Evita was an incongruous member of the crowd in the West Stand, apparently holidaying in the area.
For a team who took until late September to record their first points last season, the real music to County ears was the final whistle after two clinically taken Craig Curran goals.
For a squad featuring ten new faces in all, County’s tuned-in ensemble were impressively coherent and organised in their intent. Still, it took a huge break early in the match to swing events in their favour.
Both managers admitted the early penalty award against goalkeeper Scott Fox for clicking Christian Nade’s heels could have turned the game.
“The penalty miss was huge,” Martin Canning, the Hamilton manager, said. “If you look back at the game, if that goes in we’d probably have won the match.
“It allows us then to be the team that sits in. I thought at that point we were dominating the game as well.
“We could have played to our strengths and tried to pick them off. So in terms of impact on the game, I thought it had a big impact.”
In that shaky start for the Staggies, there was a powerful sense of déjà vu from last Saturday’s Celtic Park defeat as the Dingwall team again conceded a penalty in the third minute.
Leigh Griffiths had tucked his away but this time Fox – the culprit in bringing down Nade – reacted superbly to save Ali Crawford’s strike to his left.
That costly missed opportunity doubled in significance inside ten minutes as the home breakthrough materialised.
Curran won a corner with determined play on the left, his strike blocked by the head of Lucas Tagliapietra.
From Raffaele De Vita’s delivery, Jackson Irvine’s header flew to Liverpudlian Curran who swiped in a close-range volley with minimum fuss.
From there, the complexion of the match changed greatly, County dictating, harrying and pressing Accies steadily and drawing a series of niggly fouls from the visiting side.
Tagliapietra was among the main culprits and took a booking for his troubles after 23 minutes, but it was the giant defender himself who crashed to earth soon after with a head injury sustained in a clash with Boyce.
It took four or five minutes for the Accies defender to re-emerge after bandaging, but a bigger blow was to materialise after 41 minutes.
It was a tremendous move from County. Right back Marcus Fraser worked a one-two with Jackson Irvine and cut the ball back from the by-line to leave the prowling Curran with a simple tap-in.
The second half was unremarkable but, just before the hour, Liam Boyce and Raffaele De Vita linked superbly before Accies’ defence scrambled to cover.
The away team were restricted to speculative attempts from distance, Crawford at least stinging the glove of Fox from distance a few minutes later.
There was concern for County as keeper Fox exited after 69 minutes with a groin injury, with on-loan Stoke City goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann the replacement.
Accies were crying out for inspiration in the final stages of the game but seemed to lose their way despite toiling hard.
Jim McIntyre, the Ross County manager, was satisfied by the performance but believes there is better to come.
“Hamilton started better than us and had the chance to score from the penalty spot which was a crucial moment,” he said.
“Five minutes later, we took the lead and that was the shot in the arm we needed. For some reason, we were mis-placing passes and making poor decisions but we did the ugly side of the game well.
“Our spirit was there for everyone to see, but we can do better.
“Twice, Craig Curran was there at the right place at the right time to take his goals and it’s great to see him getting on the score-sheet so early.
“He deserved it for his work-rate and endeavour.”
Ross County: Fox (Bachmann 69); Fraser, Boyd, Davies, Foster; Gardyne, McShane, Irvine, De Vita; Boyce (Quinn 61), Curran (Graham 79), Subs not used: Robertson, Franks, Dingwall, Holden.
Hamilton: McGovern; Gordon, Garcia Tena, Tagliapietra, Kurakins; Gillespie; Turner (MacKinnon 45), Imrie (Kurtaj 61), Crawford, Longridge (Morris 75); Nade. Subs not used: Martin, MacDonald, Watson, Docherty.
Referee: A Dallas.