JOHN ROBERTSON last night insisted Ross County midfielder Ross Draper should have been sent off moments before Charlie Trafford’s red card had Caley Thistle hurtling towards a 2-1 defeat.

The Inverness manager blamed his team’s defeat partly on a slow start, but also claimed the already-booked Draper “dodged a bullet” during the sequence of play leading to Canadian Trafford’s exit.

County edged another fractious and ferociously-contested Highland derby to move five points clear of Dundee United at the Championship summit with a game in hand.

First half goals from Josh Mullin and Andy Boyle proved enough for the Dingwall team after Charlie Trafford’s controversial late first half red card weakened the hosts.

HeraldScotland: Ross County celebrateRoss County celebrate

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It was a first defeat in six games for Robertson’s side – who levelled through Carl Tremarco – but they remain six points above Dunfermline in the race for a Premiership play-off spot.

The Caley Thistle manager said: “The key moment for us – we’ve asked Liam Polworth and seen it on TV – comes as Liam is clearly fouled by Ross Draper.

“It should have been a second yellow for Ross and them down to 10 men, but the referee played on.

“Charlie stupid – he slides in – and we’ve warned him countless times to stay on his feet. He’s given the referee a decision to make.

“From the referee’s perspective, he’s done the right thing.

“Ross County realised Ross Draper had dodged a bullet and immediately substitute him at half-time – that tells you all you need to know.

“They know he should have been sent off.”

HeraldScotland: Josh Mullin of Ross County and Jordan White of InvernessJosh Mullin of Ross County and Jordan White of Inverness

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In pelting rain, it was a huge win for County who now host United on Friday evening with a ripe opportunity to place one hand on the trophy.

County were rewarded for a bright start inside eight minutes.

Josh Mullin, who had moments before flashed a shot over the bar, cut towards the right edge of the box. He then unleashed a terrific hit low past Mark Ridgers into the left side of the net.

Ex-Caley Thistle midfielder Ross Draper took an early booking for a late challenge on Brad Mckay and then was a touch lucky to escape punishment for another hefty challenge on Jamie McCart.

But Caley Thistle’s first real flourish produced a 21st minute penalty after County keeper Scott Fox caught the leg of home striker Jordan White.

Fox produced a fine save down low to his right from White’s sluggish attempt.

The leveller did come after 24 minutes, though. Joe Chalmers’ corner was headed back across the six-yard area by White and home captain Carl Tremarco smashed in a header off the underside of the bar.

Seven minutes later, the away lead was restored. Ridgers flapped at a Mullin corner and Draper hammered a volley downward into the ground.

As the ball veered wide of target, on-loan Preston defender Andy Boyle’s head-flick diverted it into the roof of the home net.

The hosts were in serious bother right on half-time as Trafford, booked for a trip 16 minutes before, caught Jamie Lindsay on the break and took a second yellow card.

It was ragged and relentlessly competitive through to the final exchanges.

County co-manager Stuart Kettlewell admitted: “It’s a massive win.

“In our position there’s tension and nerves. The main focus for us was to get out of here with three points.

“The best case scenario was to go into Friday’s game five points clear with a game in hand and that’s exactly where we stand.”