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Ross County 1 Hibernian 0: Survival is no top flight of fancy for County as Hibs continue to nosedive

Richard Brittain might have been settling in at St Johnstone last summer had family concerns not led him to tear up a pre-contract agreement.

Ben Gordon and Jordan Slew celebrate in front of the home supporters following a win which secured top-flight football for Ross County. Picture: SNS
Ben Gordon and Jordan Slew celebrate in front of the home supporters following a win which secured top-flight football for Ross County. Picture: SNS

No-one could question Brittain's commitment to his club last night, though.

The Ross County captain, perhaps fittingly given his own impassioned contribution, was the man who hammered home the winning penalty against Hibernian and ensured that the Dingwall side will compete in the SPFL Premiership next season. His boot might also have hammered another nail into Hibs' coffin as the Edinburgh side loiter above the relegation play-off position.

That fact was lost temporarily amid the cheers which greeted the confirmation that County will be in the top flight for a third successive season. "If I could bet on somebody scoring a penalty kick, it would be Richard Brittain. He has been great for me at this football club," said Derek Adams, the County manager.

"He has inspired the players and been a big player here for a number of seasons now. I'm delighted for him because he has gone through difficult times as well."

Brittain was only one of many County players who answered the critics when it mattered most. "It is great to be playing Premiership football again next season," Adams added. "It is such an achievement for this club to do it twice in a row.

"It is bigger than I would ever have imagined. Getting to the Premiership, finishing fifth, staying here again wherever we finish this year. It is testimony to the players and staff I have. It is a magnificent achievement for such a club as us."

For Hibs, the free-fall and the angst continues. Their commitment was no less apparent than County's, but the lack of craft and guile was at times painfully on parade. Of the three teams still imperilled by the play-off position, Kilmarnock and Partick Thistle sit below the Edinburgh side but still have two matches left. Hibs have just one.

Even if Kilmarnock lose at home to St Mirren tonight, it will be all to play for when the Ayrshire side visit Easter Road on Saturday. Partick now require a point for safety.

Adams had made just one change to the side floored on Saturday by a late Greg Wylde goal at St Mirren Park and it spoke of positive intent. Yoann Arquin's return to the side lent the hosts greater threat in attack and the Frenchman's desire and tenacity was County's greatest threat.

However, the home side's hopes of a composed start evaporated with an over-cooked Filip Kiss pass-back gifting a Hibs corner. Liam Craig drove an effort high into the empty stand behind Mark Brown soon after. Then Danny Handling, with seven minutes gone, fed Jason Cummings and he drew a diving save from Mark Brown.

The hosts' first real threat came after 21 minutes, with a swerving Brittain corner finding Arquin but his effort was blocked at the back post. Five minutes before the break Brittain was blatantly tripped off the ball by Liam Craig and won a free-kick. The County captain's cross had pace and swerve and seemed to be met perfectly Arquin's head, but his flick struck a post.

County picked up where they left off after the break, with Brittain's header forcing a save. He finally out the ball into the back of the net after 63 minutes and the home support erupted.

Arquin and Jordan Slew worked a slick one-two, with the former played in wide to the left of the Hibs penalty area. Arquin returned the favour with a clever pass jabbed inside and as Slew made to control it, Hibs' Scott Robertson clattered into him.

Referee John Beaton pointed to the spot and Brittain, who rarely misses in such pressure situations, thumped in his eighth goal of the season. The main concern for County as a result was the lengthy time remaining to protect that lead.

They were able to protect it despite a succession of scares and an ultimately toothless procession of chances from the visitors.

Fresh agonies await the Leith club's faithful at home to Kilmarnock on Sunday. There was admirably unflinching belief from manager Terry Butcher after the final whistle. "Luck was certainly not with us with balls in the opponents area," he said. "It was never going to be easy but we can redeem all that with a win on Saturday.

"It is a must-win game, but we are in front of our own crowd. Our last two performances were very good. We will have a big support there and they will certainly get behind the boys."

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