Following on from the come-from-behind win against Hamilton Accies in midweek, John Hughes’ side once again found themselves trailing in the biggest match of their season after Sam Foley gave Motherwell an early lead at Fir Park. And just like Wednesday night, County hit back with two goals of their own, this time courtesy of captain Iain Vigurs and club stalwart Michael Gardyne to claim all three points and consign Kilmarnock to the play-offs.
Hughes has achieved the remit given to him when he replaced Stuart Kettlewell as manager in December. It now remains to be seen whether his efforts have been enough to convince owner Roy McGregor to offer the former Hibs and Falkirk boss a new contract to lead the Highland club in their third consecutive Scottish Premiership season.
It didn’t appear that would be the case from the opening exchanges. Motherwell were sharper right from kick-off, dispossessing a dithering Gardyne and launching a move which ended with a dangerous free-kick and league-leading 17th caution of the term for Vigurs.
The opener followed a short-time later. Mark O’Hara’s low cross was deflected into the path of the onrushing Sam Foley, who managed to direct it into the opposite corner with his thigh.
The gravity of the situation quickly began to dawn on County and they soon embarked on a ten-minute siege with Blair Spittal’s crossing bombarding the home penalty box. He whipped in a cross on 11 minutes which was denied by an excellent piece of last-ditch defending from Tyler Magloire to stop a simple Jordan White finish.
The striker bulleted a shot off the top of the crossbar a couple of minutes later after another Spittal cross dropped into his path.
Though he should have done better to hit the target on that occasion, White could count himself unfortunate on 17 minutes after powering a Spittal corner goalbound. It was certainly heading in before hitting Gardyne on the line. Stephen Kelly then had a chance after another wicked delivery but failed to get a proper connection on the finish.
It looked certain County were going to break the resistance, but the game then went into a prolonged lull for the rest of the half. The only other chance of note came in stoppage time when Gardyne fired over from a narrow angle.
With Kilmarnock leading Hamilton by two goals, it was imperative that County re-energised their attack for the second 45, and it didn’t take long for them to level the scores.
Vigurs played a one-two with Kelly on the edge of the area before advancing and curling a beautiful finish past Liam Kelly and into the top corner.
They should have been in front three minutes later. Kelly was found alone in the penalty box from a Jason Naismith cross but managed to swipe at thin air.
County had all the intensity and it was no surprise when they took the lead for good on 65 minutes. White released Gardyne running through on goal and he kept his cool to slot past Liam Kelly at the near post.