By Alison McConnell
Derek McInnes revealed that referee Kevin Clancy apologised to him after blowing his whistle too soon and denying Kilmarnock what he felt was a legitimate leveller against Ross County.
With five minutes remaining, Killie thought they had cancelled out Simon Murray’s53rd minute goal when Stuart Findlay headed past Ross Laidlaw, only for Clancy to go to a VAR check for a penalty. Clancy’s whistle had sounded seconds before Findlay found the net and while he later accepted that he was too hasty in blowing as Brad Lyons’ shirt was pulled, McInnes could not hide his irritation.
Killie’s frustrations grew all the more vocal when Danny Armstrong’s subsequent spot-kick was saved by Laidlaw with Murray’s header proving to be the difference between the sides. The Highlanders will point to two solid second-half chances that may well have given them victory by a wider margin with Jordan White in particular skying one wild effort with the goal gaping.
The win lifts Malky Mackay’s side into six spot and two points ahead of Killie.
The drama of the final minutes was in stark contrast to the soporific fare on offer in the opening period with neither side able to overly concern the other.
Killie keeper Will Dennis had a save to make from a Jack Baldwin header but other than a Matty Kennedy effort at the other end of the pitch that was blocked inside a cluttered penalty area, there wasn’t too much for anyone to get excited about.
Ross County had hopes of a penalty that was overturned by a VAR check after Findlay had gone through Murray but there was nothing of genuine quality in a turgid first 45 minutes.
The second period promised to get livelier as Kilmarnock looked to make an immediate impression – Kennedy had a run at the Ross County defence before dragging an effort wide while Danny Armstrong’s delivery into the box was just missed by Tom Davies.
It was County, however, who broke the deadlock and delighted their small band of travelling supporters. Murray got himself on the end of Yan Dhanda’s whipped free-kick into the to give the Highlanders the lead and silence the Rugby Park crowd.
It could and should have got worse again for Killie when White blasted a wild effort over the bar after Baldwin had played him in behind the Killie defence while Kyle Turner too ought to have done better when he aimed a left-foot effort straight at Dennis.
Kilmarnock almost made them pay for their wastefulness when they thought Findlay had levelled. Clancy claimed he had blown before the tug on Lyons’ shirt, much to the fury of the Killie support and bench.
Laidlaw saved Armstrong’s effort which only served to add to their sense of injustice as Ross County headed back to Dingwall with all three points.