St Mirren 0-3 Ross County: Boyce stuns Buddies

Liam Boyce (left) after scoring his second goal of the match. Picture: SNSLiam Boyce (left) after scoring his second goal of the match. Picture: SNS
Liam Boyce (left) after scoring his second goal of the match. Picture: SNS
AS THEY languished six points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership after a 4-0 defeat at Aberdeen on February 7, the notion of Ross County being safe from automatic relegation before the split would have been unthinkable.

Scorers: Ross County - Boyce (30, 75, 90)

However, last night’s resounding win at ten-man St Mirren, their eighth victory of a remarkable nine-game unbeaten run since that Pittodrie pummelling, means they are now 16 points clear of the bottom-placed Buddies with just five games to play.

With Liam Boyce’s clinically-executed hat-trick at St Mirren Park mathematically securing their immediate safety, Jim McIntyre’s burgeoning side can now focus on the task of avoiding the play-offs.

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Liam Boyce (left) after scoring his second goal of the match. Picture: SNSLiam Boyce (left) after scoring his second goal of the match. Picture: SNS
Liam Boyce (left) after scoring his second goal of the match. Picture: SNS

In this vein of form, it is difficult to envisage them being caught by second-bottom Motherwell, over whom they now enjoy a six-point cushion.

Indeed they are entitled to fancy their chances of overhauling struggling Hamilton Accies in the battle to finish top of the bottom six. The Dingwall side’s fortunes are in stark contrast to last night’s hosts, whom they have enjoyed a 22-point swing over in the last two months.

After slipping to their fifth successive defeat with scoring a goal, beleaguered St Mirren remain ten points adrift of Motherwell and will be officially relegated in the first round of fixtures after the split – yet to be announced – if they lose and the Fir Park side win.

Buddies manager Gary Teale had resisted the temptation to ring the changes following last Tuesday’s 5-0 capitulation at Motherwell, with Steven Thompson and Gregg Wylde, who both featured as substitutes at Fir Park, the only two players added to the starting line-up. Kieran Sadlier and James Dayton, subbed at half-time a week ago, began the game on the bench. County were unchanged from the side that won 1-0 at home to St Johnstone last week.

Dejection for St Mirren's Stephen Mallan. Picture: SNSDejection for St Mirren's Stephen Mallan. Picture: SNS
Dejection for St Mirren's Stephen Mallan. Picture: SNS

The first notable effort of the match came in the ninth minute when John McGinn’s powerful left-foot shot from 25 yards flew just over the bar. Two minutes later, County defender Scott Boyd glanced a header wide from a Martin Woods corner.

The visitors, unsurprisingly in light of their recent form, looked the more sure-footed team in the early exchanges. They threatened in the 27th minute when Craig Curran sent a dangerous low delivery across the face of goal which St Mirren defender Jason Naismith almost turned into his own net.

County made the breakthrough on the half hour after some frantic defending by St Mirren ultimately proved fruitless. Michael Gardyne had a shot blocked by Jim Goodwin as he burst into the box before Curran followed up and was denied by goalkeeper Mark Ridgers. However, there was to be no denying Boyce, who was on hand to rasp gleefully into the net from six yards out before racing off behind the goal in celebration. It was the second goal in consecutive games for Boyce after he struck the winner against St Johnstone and he almost added another soon after when his low shot from the edge of the box slithered inches beyond Ridgers’ left-hand post.

St Mirren’s hopes of coming back into the game were dealt a major setback when they were reduced to ten men after defender Viktor Genev was adjudged to have committed a professional foul when he bundled Boyce to the ground as he ran on to a Curran pass. From the resulting free-kick, 25 yards out, Gardyne curled a shot against the outside of the post.

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Woods then tried his luck with a free-kick from the edge of the box which was pawed away by Ridgers as the visitors looked to put the game beyond their hosts. They went close again in the 58th minute when Raffaele De Vita had a low angled shot tipped beyond the far post after Boyce had laid a Jackson Irvine pass off into his path.

County were in full command of proceedings and Gardyne almost extended their advantage in the 65th minute when he pinged a half-volley just over the crossbar from 15 yards out after Ridgers had punched a cross into his path. Five minutes later, Irvine glanced a header over.

The second goal always looked likely to arrive for County, though, and it came in the 75th minute when Boyce collected a Gardyne cross on his chest, eased past Goodwin and blasted home from 12 yards out.

The Northern Irishman wasn’t finished there, however. With the last kick of the game, he tapped in a cross from substitute Tony Dingwall to become the first County player ever to score a treble in the top flight. As the St Mirren players trooped off to boos from the home support, their buoyant County counterparts lapped up the acclaim of the 150 visiting fans who had made the trek south.

St Mirren: Ridgers, Naismith, Kelly, McGinn, McAusland (Reilly 43), Genev, Mallan, Goodwin, Thompson (Gow 69), Arquin (Sadlier 67), Wylde. Subs not used: Dayton, Brown, Sonupe, Wilks.

Ross County: Brown, Fraser, Reckord, Irvine, Boyd, P Quinn, Gardyne, Woods (Kiss 84), Curran (Sernas 86), Boyce, De Vita (Dingwall 79). Subs not used: Reguero, Cardle, Jervis, Palazuelos.