IN AMONG the Dutch, French and Slovakians, the short-term signings who have helped Ross County cling on for dear life, there exists a band of brothers who have been there and done it all before.
Ross County 2-1 Kilmarnock
Scorers: Ross County - Kiss (41), Brittain (pen 76); Kilmarnock - Boyd (87)
Richard Brittain, Stuart Kettlewell and Scott Boyd are the stalwart survivors of the Staggies’ traumatic post-Scottish Cup final season of 2010/11.
From the heights of Hampden and that famous semi-final victory over Celtic, County hurtled on a downward spiral the following season under three different managers. After Derek Adams packed his bags for Hibernian in November 2010, Willie McStay’s results were miserable and he was hastily jettisoned. It was left to Jimmy Calderwood to dig out the handful of victories that kept County in the old First Division by the very skin of their teeth. The subsequent two seasons have seen the Highland club grow and prosper on a scale unimaginable back in that dark spring of 2011, with a First Division title success and fifth-place finish in their SPL debut season.
The grim graft and toil of the current campaign, though, has brought it all back for the veteran trio who helped secure safety in 2011. It is a memory and experience that Boyd, County’s most consistently-effective central defender of the last seven campaigns, believes is serving the team well.
“A few of us have been involved in a relegation battle before and that does help a bit,” the Whitburn-born 28-year-old said. “It went down to the last day of the season in the First Division so we know what it’s like. I think we showed what it is all about today. It’s not always about the performance down at the foot of the table, it’s about getting the result. It is exactly the same for all five teams caught up in it.”
County, rather blunt and hesitant the previous week in defeat at Tynecastle, had the bit between their teeth against Kilmarnock. It was perhaps no coincidence that the long-serving trio of Boyd, Brittain and Kettlewell were all heavily-involved, the latter an early replacement for the injured Michael Tidser. Boyd felt the team coped admirably with the nerves and palpitations pervading the Global Energy Stadium.
“It is a huge three points for us because no one wants to be in that dreaded play-off position,” he said.
County moved up to ninth, but for now, current league placings seem almost an irrelevance given there are just two points separating the five teams above Hearts.
The breakthrough came from a sublime move after 41 minutes, with Slew feeding Melvin de Leeuw and the Dutchman teeing up Filip Kiss for a fine low finish from just outside the box. Richard Brittain won and scored the penalty that created comfort for County after 76 minutes, before Kris Boyd’s late reply fleetingly revived the tension.
For Killie, berthed for the last 21 years in Scotland’s top flight since Tommy Burns’ promotion success, these are worrying times. There was rancour from the away stands long before defeat was assured, with chairman Michael Johnston and even coach Sandy Clark taking it in the neck. Craig Samson, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper, said: “The fans are not happy but they are quite right to be voicing their opinion.
“We’re second bottom of the league and no fans would be happy in this situation.”