ROSS County manager Derek Adams had been talking all week about turning a corner, and has been talking a big transfer window to make the point.
Scorers: Ross County - Carey (88)
Bookings: Ross County - Boyd; St Johnstone - Mackay
Clearly, nothing girds the loins like the prospect of a whole new spate of arrivals and, after last week’s excellent fighting win at Inverness, this dramatic last-gasp victory takes County above Partick Thistle and into tenth place.
After a limp first half shaded by the visitors had given way to a second period of non-stop action dominated by the home side, it had looked as if the match would simply fade away into a goalless draw. But with three minutes remaining, County skipper Richie Brittain played the ball up to substitute Melvin de Leeuw, and although the Dutchman should never have won the ball, he expertly rolled his shoulders to send Frazer Wright sprawling. As the Saints defence scrambled to get back into place, De Leeuw calmly played the ball square to Graham Carey for the Ross County midfielder to sidefoot the ball into the net for what was always going to be the winning goal.
For St Johnstone, it was a bitter blow. Seventh before this match and hoping to overhaul Hibs to move into the top six, they were busy enough without ever doing enough to grab this game by the scruff of its neck. Not that they didn’t have a plan: everything St Johnstone did was designed to get the ball into Stevie May as early as possible, which is little wonder because the ponytailed striker has scored a remarkable 15 goal for the visitors this season, and yesterday he looked as sharp as ever against the joint-worst defence in this league.
At times this season Ross County have been defensively ripped apart, yet the recent return of stylish left-back Evangelos Oikonomou from Greece seems to have galvanised the Dingwall side’s defence. Yesterday, Brian McLean and Scott Boyd stepped up and kept May and the mercurial Nigel Hasselbaink so close that their threat was effectively snuffed out.
May was busy trying to create chances out of nothing, spinning and firing from outside the box at every opportunity and even having a go from more than 30 yards out just before half-time as his frustration levels began to rise. So influential is May that he even had a hand in setting up the visitors’ best chance of the first half when he latched on to a clearance and knocked a beautiful ball up to Hasselbaink who stepped over the ball before firing a shot into Michael Fraser as the goalkeeper came out to close him down.
If the Staggies couldn’t replicate Saints’ menace in the final third before the break, nor were they toothless. The key to their win at neighbours Inverness Caley Thistle last week was the form of Jordan Slew, the 20-year-old loan signing from Blackburn Rovers who had a hand in both goals, and they have high hopes for the English youngster. Yesterday, he came closest to opening County’s account before the break when, had his back-post header of Oikonomou’s sublime cross been on target, County would undoubtedly have taken a scarcely deserved lead.
But if neither side deserved anything from an insipid opening 45 minutes, the change in the game after half-time was startling.
It also brought a shift in momentum, with County suddenly creating chance after chance. Graham Carey was at the heart of all that County did, shooting wildly wide from the restart, then curling in a beautiful cross that just needed any touch to break the deadlock before finally having a low driven shot from the edge of the penalty area blocked seconds after Richie Brittain’s header from a corner had gone just inches over the crossbar.
The breakneck pace never slackened as County in particular chased the game, while St Johnstone continually looked for opportunities to counter-attack from deep. Yet with McLean and Boyd mobbing May every time he came anywhere near the ball, and no-one else bar possibly David Wotherspoon looking capable of getting on the scoresheet, Saints looked happy to settle for a point. County, though, continued to press and McLean, Carey and Alex Cooper all came close before Carey struck to break the deadlock.
There were chances in the final frenetic minutes, with Wotherspoon testing Michael Fraser and substitute Michael Tidser almost scoring from a spectacular long-range drive at the death. But the men from Perth can have few complaints. Maybe that corner really has been turned.