Kris Boyd had prodded Kilmarnock into the lead two minutes earlier, but that rare moment of joy was not enough to divert the disenchanted Rugby Park crowd from their demonstration.
As the game ticked into its 18th minute, the red cards handed out in the environs of the ground were brandished, accompanied by a raucous chorus of "We want Johnston out" in reference to unpopular chairman Michael.
A similar scene unfolded after the interval, only this time the catcalls came before the cheering.
Jackson Irvine's 71st-minute clincher came just two minutes after the second staging of the protest, the timings a reference to the club's formation in 1869.
That it soundtracked the occasion of Kilmarnock's first victory of the campaign lent a slightly surreal edge, particularly given the upbeat atmosphere at the conclusion of the contest.
Having lost six games from seven, the three points moved them 13 clear of Hearts, who visit Ayrshire next weekend. It was, as manager Allan Johnson said, a crucial win. "It takes a wee bit of pressure off," said Johnston, who suggested that Rabiu Ibrahim appeared to have fainted, rather than been injured, before being stretchered off in the first half.
"One win's not enough, though. We've got to make sure this isn't just a flash in the pan."
For all that Kilmarnock deserved their success, Ross County were dreadful. More than anything, it is the concession of cheap goals that has scarred the early weeks of their campaign and the familiar failing cost Derek Adams' side again yesterday.
Take the opening goal. When Jeroen Tesselaar speared a diagonal ball into the visitors' area, Michael Gardyne's aerial challenge compromised Scott Boyd's attempts to clear, his header falling only to Kris Boyd at the edge of the box.
The striker's volley was blocked by his namesake, but the defender and colleague Brian McLean then dawdled over the loose ball, allowing all four players to converge before the ball squirted past Mark Brown. Striker Boyd, predictably, took the credit.
To suggest Kilmarnock merited that advantage would be to exaggerate their early efforts, but the hosts certainly enjoyed the better opportunities as the opening half elapsed.
Boyd, in particular, posed problems, directing one surprisingly agile hitchkick over the crossbar and almost setting up Barry Nicholson with an adroit nudge of his forehead.
McLean came perilously close to deflecting a Darren Barr header over his own goalline before recovering to lash clear. Kris Boyd, though, still seemed the most likely source of a second goal. Looking sharp and fit - at one point he outpaced two County defenders from a standing start - the former Scotland striker should have doubled his side's advantage just after the interval, his fierce shot taking a slight deflection off Scott Boyd before scudding against the crossbar.
Such profligacy might have been a cause for regret had County not been so abject. Adams' side offered little, save a spurt around the hour mark when Craig Samson tipped a Darren Maatsen header over then instinctively thwarted Mihael Kovacevic, having initially spilled Maatsen's testing low cross, and continued to look uncertain at the back. Indeed, it was scant surprise when no County player moved to challenge Irvine as Nicholson rolled a free-kick into his path, the Australian using such freedom to shape a delightful finish over Brown to confirm the victory.
"Kilmarnock were always liable to score a second because we had to open up a bit," said Adams.