Scorers: Ross County - Gardyne 23; Curran 59; Kilmarnock - Ashcroft 88
The trickery of the former Celtic youth has never been in question but, in current form, the energy and directness he adds is reaping rich rewards for Ross County.
A goal and assist were just the cream on the cake for a 29-year-old now in his third Dingwall spell, although, understandably, manager Jim McIntyre was keen to laud the collective, rather than individualise this sixth instalment of County’s restorative unbeaten run.
McIntyre, manager of the month in the Premiership, was thrilled to see his players respond to the Friday night gauntlet rivals Motherwell had thrown down in beating Hamilton.
Goals from Michael Gardyne, pictured, and Craig Curran in each half were scant reward for a team who defended resolutely and buzzed at Killie at every opportunity.
Lee Ashcroft’s reply came in an unlikely nervy closing spell,
but County remain a team transformed.
Victory broke Killie’s seven-game unbeaten run and made it five wins and a draw from six for County, who answered Motherwell’s Friday-night challenge to again move above the play-off spot.
“When you’ve only won twice the whole season, five wins out of six is remarkable,” McIntyre said. “But we had done enough in games to suggest we weren’t far away, without actually seeing it through and getting the points.
“I felt we were as good as most of the teams, but it’s alright me saying it – you have to go and deliver it. Today it was very pleasing – for 80 minutes we were exceptional.”
County’s great start culminated in the opener after 23 minutes, with Liam Boyce controlling in the box and showing strength to nudge aside his marker. The striker fed the arriving Gardyne to his right and the former Killie loanee rocketed a 10-yard strike high into the roof of the net.
In an action-packed second period, County racked up chance after chance, but the vital second arrived in the 59th minute. Liam Boyce sent the tireless Gardyne away on the right and the County attacker found Curran all on his own in the box to side-foot past Samson with cool ease.
Killie were furious, though, claiming Curran had tripped Ashcroft in the build-up.
The away team then mounted an unlikely resurgence of their own. Greg Kiltie’s curling shot struck the far post and, as the ball was played back in, substitute Lee Miller cut agonisingly just wide.
Manuel Pascali also went close before, from a Paul Cairney free-kick, Ashcroft’s header bounced past Mark Brown with two minutes left.
Ross County: Brown, Kiss, Quinn, Boyd, Reckord, Gardyne (Carey 74), Irvine, Woods, De Vita, Curran (Palazuelos 86), Boyce (Jervis 64). Subs not used: Reguero, Sernas, Cardle, Meite.
Kilmarnock: Samson, Westlake, Ashcroft, Pascali, Barbour, Johnston, Slater, O’Hara (Kiltie 75), Obadeyi (Cairney 63), Magennis, Eccleston (Miller 63). Subs not used: Brennan, Syme, Splaine, Hawkshaw.
Referee: B Madden. Attendance: 3,389.
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