LIAM Boyce last night stretched Ross County’s astonishing recovery run to eight matches with a priceless header to stay three points ahead of play-off rivals Motherwell.
Scorers: Boyce 84
The Northern Irish predator struck with six minutes left as reward for his own and his team-mates’ phenomenal work-rate in a breathless battle with the equally-committed Perth Saints.
Tommy Wright’s men couldn’t find the cutting edge to claim the three points they needed to secure top six football, but fought hard throughout.
County, though, are a team transformed – and deserved victory after piling up the chances relentlessly.
With five minutes gone, Martin Woods teed up a free kick 25 yards out and sent his strike bouncing just a whisker wide of Saints goalkeeper Alan Mannus’s left-hand post.
Moments later, the visitors threatened with David Wotherspoon’s run and dangerous, driven cross finding no takers in the County penalty area.
Still County came at them and, after 31 minutes, Woods powered in a fierce, low drive that squirmed out of grounded Mannus’s grasp. Craig Curran darted for the rebound but Mannus recovered.
Saints’ best chance of the half came after 37 minutes when McFadden’s long, measured pass sent O’Halloran tearing away on the right. He found his measure in the pace of Irvine, though, and lost composure at the vital moment, shooting wide.
At the other end, De Vita did the same after a surging run through the middle, fluffing his shot completely as the ball bobbled outside the box.
County stepped it up in the second half, but Saints defended resolutely and were always menacing on the break.
Michael Gardyne seemed energised as County picked up where they had left off and stepped up the pressure. He took just seconds to rocket a shot just wide of target from the edge of the box while, four minutes later, Liam Boyce’s pass between Craig Curran’s markers held just too much pace to control.
The missed chances were piling up relentlessly. Irvine missed a clear header from another Woods corner while a swerving Gardyne free kick from wide right swerved invitingly across the penalty area without connection, allowing Mannus to smother.
The football was so breathless you feared some of the players might need oxygen. But finally the breakthrough materialised, deservedly, for tireless County. Jamie Reckord floated a cross from the left and Liam Boyce, the Northern Ireland cap, scored with a perfectly-measured flick of the head from eight yards.
Four added minutes added weren’t enough for Saints to save it – and County march on.
Ross County: Brown, Fraser, Boyd, Quinn, Reckord; Gardyne (Palazuelos 87), Irvine (Kiss 82), Woods, De Vita (Cardle 71); Curran, Boyce. Subs: Reguero, Jervis, Sernas, Meite.
St Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Wright, Anderson, Easton; Wotherspoon, Millar, Lappin, O’Halloran (Kane 86 2), MacLean 6 (Graham 80 3), McFadden 5 (Croft 60 4). Subs: Banks, Scobbie, Swanson, Graham, Miller.
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