Match Report | RCFC 3-2 Killie
Ross County took a step towards Scottish Premiership safety this afternoon as they defeated relegation rivals, Kilmarnock, 3-2 at the Global Energy Stadium.
Kyle Lafferty gave the visitors the advantage before a brace from Billy McKay and a first senior goal for Leo Hjelde saw County race into a 2-goal lead.
Lafferty snapped back with a second goal from the spot but County’s resolute back 5 held onto all 3 crucial points as Killie went down to 10-men in the dying embers of the game.
With so much at stake in the match for both clubs, the first few minutes offered a nervy and tense affair. County had greater territory in the opening stages, but it would be Kilmarnock who drew the first blood.
In the 18th minute, new-signing Kyle Lafferty netted his first goal since September to give Tommy Wright’s side the lead. Gary Dicker’s floated deep free kick picked out the head of Kirk Broadfoot inside the box who knocked it down for Lafferty. The Northern Irish international then cannoned a right-footed volley off the back of Broadfoot before sending the subsequent left-footed volley from the edge of the area into the bottom left corner.
The goal had taken the wind out of the Ross County sails and the sturdy Kilmarnock unit was showing no signs of being unmoved.
However, in the 36th minute, Blair Spittal was dealt County’s first chance of the match. Billy McKay successfully robbed a bouncing ball from the Killie centre backs and released Spittal in space on the left-hand side. The attacking midfielder galloped towards goal, but he fired his left-footed strike over Colin Doyle’s goal.
2 minutes later, Spittal’s blushes were spared by McKay as he converted Jason Naismith’s cross to equalise for the Staggies! The full-back collected a partial clearance from a corner before chopping inside of Gary Dicker to deliver a whipped cross across the face of goal from the right-hand side of the box. Billy McKay’s predatory instincts granted him space in the box as he connected with the cross and knocked the ball into the goal from close range.
County entered the break on level terms and were in the ascendancy after Billy McKay rejuvenated the home side. After a tumultuous opening 45 minutes, John Hughes would have been delighted to see his side pinch an equaliser against the run of play.
Only 70 seconds after the restart, 17-year-old Leo Hjelde bagged his first senior goal to put the Staggies ahead! Billy McKay spearheaded an incisive County counterattack when he drove forward with the ball and found Jason Naismith before the full back picked out Hjelde on the left of the box. The Celtic-loanee marauded up the left wing then slammed a left-footed effort into the far-right corner to give County the lead!
After being unjustly penalised for a challenge that led to the penalty that defeated Ross County last weekend, the Norweigan more than compensated for his previous misfortune with a monumental goal in County’s relegation battle.
No longer than a minute later, the first goal scorer, Billy McKay, doubled his side’s lead and doubled his individual tally for the afternoon. McKay hammered a right-footed volley from the edge of the area beyond Colin Doyle and into the net after he latched onto looping ball from Jordan Tillson, who done excellently to battle for the break of the ball in midfield.
Thereafter, County seemed to have brought order to a chaotic encounter and nullified any Kilmarnock threat by dominating the ball.
However, out of nowhere, in the 76th minute, Killie were awarded a penalty. Greg Kiltie done well to get round Keith Watson who attempted to shepherd the ball out of play before hauling down the attacker in the process. Kyle Lafferty dispatched the resulting spot kick beyond Ross Laidlaw to grab his brace and bring the Ayrshire club to within 1 goal of the leaders.
5 minutes before full-time, Oli Shaw nearly sealed the victory for the Staggies. Harry Paton picked up the ball on the right-hand side of the box as he twisted and turned beyond a couple of Killie defenders and chipped a cross to the front post. Shaw connected his head with the ball, but he could only direct his attempt inches wide of Colin Doyle’s near post.
With seconds left on the clock, Ross Millen was bizarrely sent off for what appeared to be a second bookable offence for dissent towards the referee.
John Hughes’ spectacular Staggies held onto their lead and moved 4 points clear of the drop, with a game-in-hand, as they further consolidated their slot in 10th position in the Scottish Premiership table.
Before the match, Ross County and Kilmarnock were the two lowest-scoring teams in the league but the neutrals were certainly not underserved another pulsating goal-laden match between the two clubs. In fact, now 24% of each club’s total Scottish Premiership goals this season have been scored against one another!