A PARADE of past Ross County greats lent an air of history to an occasion featuring two teams vying, in greatly contrasting scenarios, to ensure happy chapters are penned on season 2015/16. United, with great assurance, took charge of present day matters.
The Staggies’ class of 1966 took a bow in the low winter sunshine, almost 50 years to the day after holding a renowned Rangers team to only a 2-0 defeat in the year they first won the Highland League.
County, chasing a club record fourth-place finish in the league but slipping to fifth, were to fall far short of the high endeavour of that locally famous day. United, though, sliced three points off Kilmarnock’s advantage to eight in the fight to escape automatic relegation.
Suddenly, after five wins from eight games, those assured obituaries on the Tannadice club’s Premiership status are beginning to look shakily rash.
United manager Mixu Paatelainen said: “That’s absolutely one of our best days so far. For a change, we are able to enjoy it. I thought it was a good fighting performance against a good team.
“They showed the battling qualities but we’ve had that for a number of weeks now. We have a long way to go. I’m delighted today we narrowed the gap, but we have a tough one on Wednesday against Aberdeen.
“We need similar attitude and application from the players, determination to be first on the ball, and then we have a chance.”
With a noisy Arabs support basking in the winter sunshine, United made a strong start.
But County’s Paul Quinn was shouting for a penalty after seven minutes when his shirt was clearly held by Coll Donaldson as he headed over from Ian McShane’s corner. Referee John Beaton waved the appeals away.
The opener came from a United corner with 10 minutes gone. Scott Fraser’s delivery from the left was decent but County’s defence were posted missing as Paul Paton raced across the six-yard box to head into the left hand side of the net.
The messy physicality of the contest continued but County warmed to the task leading up to half-time, finally pressuring United in a more concerted fashion.
Ian McShane’s corner found skipper Andrew Davies heading into the side-netting after Jackson Irvine’s touch and McShane’s superb corner soon after served up a free header for Davies, only for the big defender to nod over.
County manager Jim McIntyre sacrificed free-kick specialist McShane for the width of Jonathan Franks for the second half, with the powerful Irvine moving into his favoured central midfield berth.
However, it was United who looked most threatening, with a well-worked breakaway move after 55 minutes troubling the hosts.
United’s Billy Mckay dropped deep to collect the ball and swept a clever pass down the left flank to Paul Dixon. The left back’s curling cross was crying out for a taker, but Quinn beat United’s Scott Fraser to it to concede a corner.
McIntyre made a double change after 66 minutes, with ex-United pair David Goodwillie and Brian Graham straight striking swaps for the frustrated Liam Boyce and Alex Schalk. But it was United who were celebrating a killer second after 71 minutes.
Great work from Fraser on the left created space for a fine low cross which found its way to Mckay at the back post and the ex-Caley Thistle striker was lethal close in.
County retaliated and substitute Graham missed a good chance in front of goal, before an Irvine header deflected onto the bar. There were howls for a penalty for handball amid the scramble as United survived.
It was all over after 77 minutes when Scott Fox parried a powerful Donaldson header.
Substitute Ryan Dow was sharp on the follow-up to force the third goal over the line, sparking joyous scenes between players and fans at the away end.