Dundee United suddenly look like Championship title material, a team of substance again.
Whatever Robbie Neilson has instilled, though, Stuart Kettlewell, the frustrated Ross County co-manager, felt they “lacked class” in avenging September’s 5-1 Tannadice trouncing.
Paul Watson’s early strike proved enough to make it four wins and a draw under the new United boss to climb one point behind second-top Ross County and five behind leaders Ayr United.
County’s 11-match unbeaten run was terminated with their first defeat since losing at Cappielow in late August, but Kettlewell was incensed by the Tangerines’ time-wasting antics and wild celebrations at the end.
“We know how this drill works. I’ll stand here and tell you we deserved to win it and Robbie will tell you they did,” the angered County co-manager said. “There’s no way on God’s earth we deserved to lose that game.
“It compounds it when you see some of the antics. They’ve done a number on us today. It was smash and grab.
“I’m a football person and I like my football. When you see people throwing themselves on the ground continually then that’s not football to me.
“It’s that wee lack of class in winning, but we store that up.”
United were backed by a boisterous 901-strong support but while the Tangerine faithful generated the atmosphere, County set the early pace. Only 23 seconds had elapsed when Billy Mckay had the ball in the net, only to be ruled off-side.
It was feisty stuff, but in defiance of County’s early pressure, United took a 15th-minute lead. From deep right, Fraser Aird’s free-kick was knocked down by William Edjenguele, leaving Paul Watson, pictured, clear to slam a shot home from six yards.
County had a strong penalty claim turned down before half-time when Edjenguele clattered into Davis Keillor-Dunn just inside the United penalty area, but referee Alan Newlands waved it away.
United defended well, slowed the game down when they could and there were frequent stoppages for injuries.
Liam Fontaine’s exit on a stretcher prompted the County management team to throw on a third striker in Brian Graham after also blooding Declan McManus.
There were seven added minutes after all the injury delays but United held strong. The visiting players celebrated like it was a cup final win.
Neilson said: “It’s a massive three points for us. It was all about the result. I knew the players would dig it out today. There’s a resilience in there now.”