DUNDEE UNITED had Billy Mckay but, against the expectations of a good many outwith Dingwall, Ross County took the points.
A team that toiled against relegation until the final day last season, now have the look of top-six material. They held the upper hand overall for an hour and, even as United raged back at them in the last third of the match, showed the resilience of a team that are unlikely to lose cheaply too often this campaign.
Jonathan Franks dazzled on the wing, helping to create both goals for Liam Boyce, pictured, from the spot, and defender Andrew Davies.
A fantastic Sean Dillon strike changed the whole complexion of a game on the hour and the match ended with County battered against the ropes, but refusing to go down.
“I’m delighted – it was a hard-fought victory,” County manager Jim McIntyre said. “We played some excellent stuff and started the game really well.”
All eyes were on Mckay, back in Scotland and back at a ground where he had made plenty of mischief in the past. The Wigan Athletic player created two good chances which Ryan Dow failed to tuck away.
Before those, though, County had taken the lead after 17 minutes following great play on the right by stand-out winger Franks.
A Jackson Irvine header was knocked off the line by John Rankin as pressure mounted, but Franks was quick to send the ball back in. With several blue shorts waiting in the middle, defender Mark Durnan blatantly raised his arm to block, although United cried foul over a possible Chris Robertson infringement. Boyce stepped up and drove low and hard to the keeper’s right for his fifth goal of the new season.
United reacted with their best spell, but County claimed a vital second after 28 minutes.
The outstanding Franks had keeper Luis Zwick beaten with a low shot only for Ryan McGowan to hook off the line.
From Franks’s delivery from the right, United’s defence were posted missing and central defender Andrew Davies struck a sweet half-volley past Zwick from 14 yards.
United’s lifeline materialised from nowhere. From a Blair Spittal pass, Dillon collected and, more than 30 yards out, let rip with a rocket-shot high past Fox.
It was nerve-shredding for the home support but County held out.
There was frustration for United manager Jackie McNamara, but shards of optimism given the fine line separating the sides by the end.
“The way things have went for us of late, that kind of sums it up today,” McNamara said. “Little decisions or actions are costing us. We’re not far away from scoring a number of goals. Somebody is going to get a real battering from us – I can feel it coming.”
Ross County: Fox; Fraser, Davies, Robertson, Reckord; Gardyne (Murdoch 79), Irvine, Quinn, Franks (Foster 70); Curran (McShane 68), Boyce. Subs not used: Bachmann, Graham, Boyd, De Vita.
Dundee Utd: Zwick; McGowan, Durnan, Dillon, Dixon (Donaldson 59); Souttar (Fraser 59), Rankin; Spittal, Dow, Erskine (Bodul 74); Mckay. Subs not used: McCallum, Telfer, Connolly, Muirhead.
Referee: C Thomson. Attendance: 4,014.