Ross Co 3 - 2 Hamilton: Neighbours throw Inverness lifeline

Ross County proved last night there is an appetite for affordable football in the Highlands after chairman Roy MacGregor threw open the stadium doors. But it took a late Jonathan Franks winner to ensure both halves of the Premiership's northerly divide may yet savour it in top-flight environs next season.

Hamilton's Darian MacKinnon stands dejected after Ross County's late winner. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
Hamilton's Darian MacKinnon stands dejected after Ross County's late winner. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

Hamilton Accies fought tooth and nail and threw everything at the hosts in a ragged, riveting contest played out to the death, but the Lanarkshire club are now consigned to the play-offs at best.

Inverness Caley Thistle desperately needed County to avoid defeat to keep their slender survival chances alive and their great derby foes duly delivered.

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MacGregor’s decision to allow free entry for all fans was to be applauded and it made for an end of season buzz in County’s home fixture that the players of both sides rose to.

Given that only 81 travelling supporters took up the free ticket offer in a time of dire need for their team, in all likelihood the crowd for this match might well have struggled to pass the 1,500 mark with little at stake for the hosts.

Approaching this, their final home match of the campaign, Jim McIntyre’s team were unbeaten in six, chasing a new target of seventh place and backed by that big home support. It was little wonder they made a rousing start.

With barely three minutes gone, Accies conceded a first corner. Frenchman Routis rolled it short to Michael Gardyne who cut swiftly inside and curled a sublime shot high into the far top corner.

Martin Canning’s men kept plugging away and Rakish Bingham pounced to snatch the equaliser close-in on 26 minutes after an Ali Crawford free-kick fell sweetly to him in a crowded penalty area.

Accies were then the team ruing their luck as, in quick succession, Crawford drew another save from Fox and Bingham rattled the inside of the post.

The visitors’ luck was out again just before the break.

Tim Chow took down Crawford just outside the penalty area and stepped up himself to swirl a free-kick up and over the County wall, but against the top of the left-hand post. It was a cruel way for 
Canning’s men to end the half, but one that augured well for the second period.

Martin Woods, after only 15 minutes action from the bench, failed to re-appear for County after the break. Jim O’Brien was his replacement.

There was little pattern to play as the second half unfolded but, just before the hour mark, Christopher Routis dallied too long in clear sight of goal and, rolling a pass to Franks, saw the Tees-sider blaze over the bar.

Keeper Remi Matthews also spared Accies soon after with a point-blank save from Routis after Liam Boyce’s tenacity forced the ball into the box.

Accies’ luck was out again as Fox saved a Greg Docherty blast on the line, with Accies claiming that the ball had crossed the line. Crawford fired over the bar on the rebound.

Heavy County pressure restored the lead, with O’Brien’s 15-yard strike again smacking the post in front of the Jail End only to rebound off the keeper’s legs and in.

The restored lead lasted barely two minutes, though, as Accies substitute David Templeton wound into space and the winger thrashed in his side’s second.

Just as it seemed Accies had earned a valuable point, Franks struck with a brilliant winning volley from the edge of the box.