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No celebrations from Sproule as forward scores goal that downs his former side

THERE were storm winds battering Dingwall last night but, by full-time, the air among the host camp at the Global Energy Stadium was one of cool assurance.

With storybook timing, Ivan Sproule cut down his former club with a classic flash of pace and panache. True to his words pre-match, Sproule didn't celebrate, but it must have been a moment of satisfaction given his recent exit.

That left County 14 points above the relegation spot and more importantly, with three wins and a draw from four matches now, climbing positively upwards in the table.

Hibs have still never beaten County in a competitive match and this was their third defeat from three this season against the Highlanders.

If Pat Fenlon is to sustain European aspirations, his side will have to show a great deal more class and cohesion in coming weeks and months.

After defeat in Dingwall, Fenlon's side have scored just two goals in five games and managed just one win in their last eight outings. However, the manager was irritated by suggestions that his side struggle when leading scorer Leigh Griffiths is off the boil.

"This keeps coming up every time we don't score a goal. We've got Eoin Doyle who has chipped in goals, and David Wotherspoon and Paul Cairney have scored a few. "I don't think we're over-reliant on Leigh at all.We have plenty of forward-thinking players on the park."

Fenlon also disagreed that his side had paid a price for making a slow start against resurgent County. "I thought in the first half up until the goal, we did all right. I don't think we had a slow start. We didn't create enough chances. With the players we had on the pitch, we should be able to do that."

Some 213 Hibs fans were in Dingwall to witness the meek display although, in fairness, County's January shopping seems to have bolstered key areas of their side.

Scrappy at times, this was no great spectacle but the high wind and sporadic battering rain played a big part in that. There was no Dingwall debut for County's new Canadian international defender Andre Hainault. The signing from Houston Dynamos had received a work permit this week and was on the bench.

County, with just one defeat – against Celtic – and four victories now from their last six outings, were unchanged after holding Dundee United to a draw at Tannadice on Saturday.

Hibs made a total of five changes from Saturday's stalemate at Aberdeen, with Scotland cap Scott Robertson making his debut after flitting back north from his uneventful time at Blackpool.

Jorge Claros, Eoin Doyle, Lewis Stevenson and Daniel Handling were also restored to the side.

Hibs were also striving to improve on a run of just one victory – against Celtic – from their past seven matches.

County's Rocco Quinn was first to try and use the wind with a long-range shot over the bar. The hosts' Greek signing Evangelos Oikonomou looked a real threat at times as he supported the home attack. Sproule was also quick to try his luck against his old team early on, only for Ben Williams to smother.

Hibs barely troubled Mark Brown's goal before the break, although Griffiths did wriggle free to strike the side-netting on the half hour.

The game ignited after 36 minutes when County took a deserved lead. Iain Vigurs was the catalyst, showing vision to split the Hibs defence with a terrific through pass.

Sproule's pace should hardly have caught his old team by surprise, but in a flash the Northern Irishman tore clear, nicked around the goalkeeper and stroked the ball into the empty net.

County held the upper hand as the second half unfolded. Hibs, for long enough, were restricted to the odd speculative effort with Gary Deegan forcing a save from Mark Brown just after the hour.

There was concern for County as the influential Sproule went off with a hamstring injury. That paved the way for the debut of Steffen Wohlfarth, another January signing, from German club SV Wehen Wiesbaden and the big target man was quick to show some neat touches with his backto goal.

Much of the action saw Hibs huffing and puffing for a way back. There was bafflement in home ranks as a full five minutes stoppage time was added. But while Griffiths went down in the box late on close to Mihael Kovacevic, the appeals were waved away and County stood firm for another huge result.

Derek Adams, the County manager, was quietly satisfied. "It's another win for us and good to keep the momentum going," he said. "We're only six points off Hibs now with two games in hand and four points off Aberdeen. It was another good goal from Ivan Sproule. He has scored three goals and one assist, so he's been a good signing for us. He has a wee problem with his hamstring and we'll see how he is for Saturday."

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