JIM McINTYRE, the Ross County manager, paid tribute to the faith and financial backing received from chairman Roy MacGregor after earning Premiership safety on a dramatic day in Dingwall.
With the final minutes ticking away, the Staggies were down to ten men and drawing with Hamilton Accies, while play-off spot rivals Motherwell led away to St Mirren.
A fingernail-shredding 90 minutes, at that daunting juncture, lay in prospect next weekend at Kilmarnock, but suddenly the afternoon was turned on its head.
Liam Boyce struck County’s winner and Motherwell’s late collapse in Paisley left the Dingwall team heading into a fourth season in the top flight.
McIntyre, right, who has signed 12 players and completely re-shaped the squad since replacing Derek Adams in September, had no hesitation in trumpeting club owner MacGregor’s role above all others.
“I’m absolutely delighted, more so for the chairman. When you get appointed at a club where there is quite a lot of work to do, you need backing,” the manager said.
“He has given Billy Dodds and I unbelievable backing since we arrived. He has not said no to anything we have asked for. We’re not magicians as managers. We knew we needed investment in the squad and he has been fantastic. The players who have come in included quite a few who hadn’t done a pre-season and in order to get them up to speed and get your ideas across it took a wee bit of time.
“It was a phenomenal achievement from the players. We just told them to keep believing and hopefully it would turn.
“Did we ever expect it to turn that much? No. Thankfully we got the job done today and it doesn’t go until next week.”
Hamilton were able to put the home side under a decent spell of pressure in a nervy start for County, but only after a scare with just three minutes gone when Raffaele De Vita found good space on the left and drove low across the penalty box. Craig Curran met it first time with a ten-yard side-foot, but Accies goalkeeper Michael McGovern pulled off a magnificent diving touch around the post.
Accies then exerted heavy pressure, although County showed threat in flashes. Tricky footwork by Michael Gardyne inside the away box after 19 minutes eventually carved space for a clipped shot just wide of the right-hand post.
There was a galling simplicity, though, to the goal that sent the Highlanders behind after 28 minutes. Crawford’s corner was excellent and Brazilian Lucas Tagliapetria used all of his 6ft 4ins to good effect as he forced a four-yard header over the line.
Seven minutes later, a trick of the light had half of the Global Energy Stadium fleetingly believing the hosts had equalised. Jamie Reckord’s low ball from the left flashed across goal, with contact missed by the sliding Liam Boyce before an insufficient connection at the back post by strike partner Curran.
The second half was five minutes old when McIntyre made his first change, promising young local Tony Dingwall replacing Curran in attack.
Martin Woods then saw a dipping shot from distance tipped over the bar by McGovern and the corner led to County’s leveller. Woods delivered the set piece, a Filip Kiss header bounced outside the penalty box and Gardyne required no further invitation at the edge of the “D”, smashing a left-foot strike into the left hand corner.
County tails were up and all the pressure was flowing in Hamilton faces with Dingwall’s ingenuity telling in poking holes in their defences.
With ten minutes left, though, the Highlanders looked in peril with a puzzling sending-off. The whistle blew with jostling in the Hamilton box at a corner and Kiss, to the bewilderment of the home contingent, saw a straight red.
But County’s anger turned to joy as the all-important second goal arrived. Woods’ corner was half-cleared by a flailing Accies leg, but the grounded Liam Boyce recovered to turn home a close-range shot and spark delirium among the home crowd.
It was the Irishman’s tenth goal of the season, but none had been so valuable.
There was further drama in stoppage time as Crawford struck the corner of the County bar and post, but it proved the final act of the 90 minutes.
Scorers: Ross County - Gardyne 58; Boyce 85; Hamilton Academical - Tagliapietra 28
Ross County: Reguero, Kiss, Fraser, Quinn, Reckord, Gardyne (Brittain 86), Woods, Irvine, De Vita (Quinn 84), Curran (Dingwall 50), Boyce. Subs not used: Sernas, Macleod, Tait, Burgess. Goals: Gardyne 58’; Boyce 85’. Booked: Reckord, De Vita. Sent off: Kiss
Hamilton: McGovern, Lyon, Tagliapietra, Tena, MacDonald, Gillespie, Longridge (Docherty 87), Crawford, MacKinnon (Hasselbaink 89), Imrie, Brophy (Scotland 83). Subs not used: Canning, Watson, McMann, Hill. Goals: Tagliapietra 27’. Booked: Tagliapietra, MacKinnon.
Referee: B Madden