Ross County 2-0 Livingston: Mckay double downs Livi
It wasn't pretty but, boy, was it effective.
Much had been made of Livingston’s snarl, bite and physical threat, but County fought fire with fire and beat them at their own game.
Billy Mckay’s double secured a huge victory for the Dingwall hosts, halting their downward spiral, lifting them seven points off bottom spot and halting Livingston’s five-game winning run.
Mckay seventh and eighth goals of the campaign were taken with typical cool, calm precision, one early and the second on the hour.
Just what the win could do for County’s battered confidence is anyone’s guess, but it was a victory they craved after so long under scrutiny.
For Livingston, having surfed such a wave of good form, it was a remarkably flat performance bereft of any real creativity and perhaps undermined by a tough of complacency.
Quite apart from their long winless run – eight games since mid-December – County had every cause to be wary of the visitors.
Livingston’s defiant form had singled them out as the Premiership’s top goalscorers outside of the Old Firm, with 4-1 and 4-0 victories over County this season already.
The Lions were seeking a sixth win on the bounce while County’s goals against tally had hit 50, the top-flight’s worst, after last weekend’s 3-1 beating at Kilmarnock.
Six of County’s outfield Rugby Park starters dropped to the bench with Sean Kelly, Liam Fontaine, Callum Morris, Ross Draper, Billy Mckay and Harry Paton restored to the side.
The powerful Draper was making his first start in close to three months after a knee injury.
Livingston, in such intimidating form coming into the contest, were unchanged from Saturday’s single goal win at home to Motherwell.
It took just three minutes to shake up pre-match preconceptions.
County worked the ball wide to Sean Kelly on the left and his long, high delivery to the back of the penalty area was neatly controlled and fed back by Marcus Fraser.
Up strode Billy Mckay to drill a 14-yard shot hard and low past on-loan Rangers keeper Robby McCrorie.
A brutal physical contest unfolded, with frequent high balls fiercely contested.
Another Kelly cross, cut in low from the left, picked out Harry Paton for a powerful 15-yard snapshot that deflected wide.
County’s Callum Morris also nodded wide from an Iain Vigurs corner, while a delightful turn and angled delivery by Lee Erwin almost picked out Marcus Fraser charging in at the far post.
Livingston’s best opportunity came as striker Lyndon Dykes worked a neat one-two with Steven Lawless to the right side of County’s penalty area before thrashing the ball into the side-netting.
Livingston opened the second half with intent and Ciaron Brown flashed a header wide, while Scott Pittman drove a speculative attempt from distance over the bar.
There was a long delay after Coll Donaldson went down with a blow to the face after a high leap with Livvy’s Dykes.
But County created a two-goal cushion on the hour, with a superbly-weighted Iain Vigurs pass sending Mckay in behind the away defence.
Mckay still had work to do, but glided around keeper McCrorie and swept the ball into the net.
The striker then blew a chance for to complete his hat-trick four minutes later after another fine cross from Kelly on the left, but Mckay side-footed wide.
Livingston, who will trek back north to face Inverness in the Scottish Cup on Saturday, seemed to have run out of answers long before the end and offered little in the final third despite a triple substitution by manager Gary Holt after 67 minutes.
The away team remained unimaginative in their play late in the game, seeming resigned to defeat.
County, for their part, controlled it and protected their lead with efficiency and resolve before sealing a vital three points.