Scorers: Hamilton - Canning 57; Antoine-Curier 56 pen, 67 pen; Scotland 90+1
MacGregor would have headed back up to Dingwall last night having been provided with a powerful, and for him hideously painful, demonstration of how a small club can prove successful and inspiring through nurturing an identity and ethos, on and off the park. Hamilton were scintillating, taking apart their visitors with a brand of pass-and-move football that has now earned them four straight wins in a top flight that many of us thought would prove too much for them.
After his team’s bleaching of managerless, rudderless and pointless opponents, Hamilton manager Alex Neil – a shoo-in for manager of the month – talked of how he has had more than a year moulding and building a young side with a Scottish spine. The contrast with County, who hired a new job lot of imports each transfer window in the same time period, could hardly be more marked.
The chemistry of the Dingwall side, bottom of the Premiership and so 12 points adrift of second-top Hamilton, appeared so toxic it was as if their pre-match energy drinks had been laced with Tramadol.
So often when a manager leaves following a build-up of pressure caused by a poor run, a team instantly responds by playing with a freedom and expression that betrays a weight being lifted. County couldn’t even manage that footballing form of the dead-cat bounce.
Caretaker manager Steven Ferguson pointed to the axing of the Adams family as having spooked the squad instead.
“The boys had a difficult week and it took its toll on them, as you saw. They have done very well but when things like that happen during the week and things don’t go for you on a Saturday, then it shows on the pitch,” he said. “There are no excuses though. Hamilton were excellent. They moved the ball around fantastically well, and hurt us. The players have shown me great respect in the last two days and prepared for this as well as they could. I have no doubt they all gave 100 per cent but we got well beaten.”
Apart from his six-month sojourn at Hibernian a couple of years ago, Derek Adams has been a fixture at County for almost seven years. Ferguson concedes that ensures an awkward managerial search for chairman and owner MacGregor. “It’s very difficult to replace a manager who has done as much for a club like ours,” he said.
County’s case wasn’t helped by the loss of Uros Celcer just after the hour mark for a professional foul. The defender got on the wrong side of Doug Imrie in the box, allowing the ever over-officious Willie Collum to brandish a red card and award a penalty, slotted in by Mickael Antoine-Curier. Six minutes earlier, the striker had bagged his first goal, also from the spot, after Tony Andreu had turned Rocco Quinn in the box and been upended by him.
This didn’t change the game – it was 2-0 at the time – so much as ensure the goal count could become embarrassing for the visitors. The wonder of it was that it took Hamilton until 47 minutes to opening the scoring, Martin Canning hanging in the air to power in a Danny Redmond corner. On the front foot throughout the first half, the crispness of their passing was not matched by a sharpness inside the penalty box.
“We had good opportunities in the first half, we were the better side but I just told them not to get frustrated and they carried it out to the letter,” Neil said. “Normally when you win 4-0 you’re quite happy but to be honest, we could have added more.”
Substitute Jason Scotland knocked in a fourth for the home side but County’s day was summed up when they were awarded a penalty for a dubious handball incident involving Ziggy Gordon. Up stepped Richie Brittain, reported to have helped Ferguson take the team this week, but Michael McGovern thwarted the dejected Dingwall club captain.