THERE would have been no contest here in Dingwall had play been settled on budget and tradition.
Hearts, with richer history and wage packets, would have won hands down.
But they are the ones cutting back and blooding youth, while Ross County recruited with cosmopolitan fervour during the transfer window that has just closed. A German, a Greek, a Canadian, a Serb and a Swiss-Croat now grace Victoria Park, while Hearts turn to callow talents such as Fraser Mullen, Billy King and Callum Tapping.
Four goals were testament to enterprising play, with Iain Vigurs eventually ending Hearts' hopes of a big three points.
Tynecastle manager John McGlynn contradicted opposite number Derek Adams over who deserved a win, and spoke with enthusiasm about his young charges. "I felt we merited three points, to be honest," McGlynn said. "It was another really good performance from us and there was some great football.
"We had opportunities to kill them off, but unfortunately couldn't defend right to the very end. I'm still very buoyant about the performance. The young lads had to show character."
Ivan Sproule's hamstring tweak denied him a crack at his former derby foes, a blow to an otherwise unchanged County, but Alex Cooper, son of County assistant Neale, slotted into the team on the right of midfield. There was a brisk early tempo and Hearts went close twice but it was the hosts who stormed ahead after 20 minutes.
Paul Lawson's corner was only half-cleared and returned to his toes. He picked out Rocco Quinn in space and the former Celtic man's shot took a deflection to beat Jamie MacDonald.
The goal inspired County to a dominant spell, only for new Tynecastle idol Michael Ngoo to square matters.
Ryan Stevenson sent a measured ball through the middle after 31 minutes and the Liverpool loanee escaped Grant Munro to thrash it past Mark Brown.
Hearts punished the hosts just after the hour when, from Mullen's fierce cross, Jamie Walker leapt in front of his marker to execute a fine six-yard header.
County mounted the cavalry charge and as stoppage time beckoned. Scott Boyd's dig was blocked but Vigurs showed great alertness to stride in and score.
Adams is focusing firmly on the teams just above. "We're trying to catch the likes of Hibs and Aberdeen," he said. "We're a point closer today – and we still have a game in hand on both sides."