Scottish Premiership, Saturday 8th April, Superseal Stadium.
By Liam Bryce
Ten-man Hamilton Accies survived a first half dismissal to secure a point against Ross County and move out of the relegation play-off place.
Massimo Donati fired Accies into the lead inside four minutes, curling a fine effort into the top corner from the edge of the box.
Giannis Skondras was sent off for the home side just before the interval as he hacked down Ryan Dow to halt a County break.
Craig Curran levelled for the visitors after the interval, but the home side held on and should have won it at the death as Alex Gogic fired over inside the box.
Martin Canning’s side started with purpose, and took the lead inside four minutes after a move started and finished by veteran midfielder Donati.
The Italian sprayed a pass wide to the right, continuing his run to receive a return ball which he curled home first time from the edge of the box.
County’s reply was almost instant, with Tim Chow sweeping an effort over the bar from inside the area, following a low cross from Woods down the left.
The home side almost doubled their lead inside ten minutes. Ali Crawford burst onto the ball before finding Alex D’Acol on the edge of the area, and the number nine steadied himself before forcing a fine save from Scott Fox.
— Arthur Lynch (@ArthurLynch3) April 8, 2017
The game settled after a frantic opening ten minutes, as neither side was able to find a consistent rhythm. Rakesh Bingham was booked for a late challenge on Jason Naismith, before Michael Gardyne fired a left-footed drive narrowly wide from distance.
A patient passing move from the visitors ended with Skondras being forced to clear Gardyne’s cross at the back post, with the County man then unleashing a deflected effort inside the box seconds later which Matthews did well to hold.
Bingham and Naismith clashed again minutes before the break, with the County full-back provoking the full ire of the home crowd by flooring Bingham with a robust challenge near the corner flag. Referee Stevie McLean, however, saw nothing untoward.
The first-half looked to be petering out quietly until Ryan Dow was released down the left flank on the counter. Full-back Skondras darted across to cover but was beaten to the ball by the winger. The resulting challenge sent Dow flying and referee McLean showed no hesitation in producing a red card.
There was a sense of disbelief around the ground, as Skondras’ challenge was late but looked deserving of a booking at most. There was no clear goalscoring opportunity and the Greek defender didn’t show his studs in the tackle.
The dramatic twist induced a tangible change in atmosphere at the Superseal Stadium, as the home side went in at the break a goal up but a man light.
The visitors immediately began to pepper the Accies goal in the early stages of the second period, with Gardyne first being denied by a brilliant Scott McMann challenge, before Dow crashed an effort against the bar from distance.
Accies resistance was broken shortly after, as a Woods corner was eventually turned home by Cowan following a scramble in the area. It was an untidy goal but one which the Highland side deserved.
The Staggies continued to push on as substitute Alex Schalk forced McMann into a clearance, before Liam Boyce fired wide from the edge of the area.
Despite County’s dominance, it was the home side who came closest to grabbing a winner as McMann surged into the area to force a crucial save from Fox at his near post.
The ten men threatened again shortly after as Dougie Imrie worked a short corner with Docherty before shooting over from 18 yards.
The home side’s endeavour was almost rewarded in the dying minutes, when the tireless Imrie won possession on the half-way line, driving forward before feeding Alex Gogic in the area.
The substitute took a touch to create half a yard but blasted agonisingly over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
A point sees Accies leapfrog Motherwell on goal difference into tenth place, while County remain eight, three points ahead of their opponents.
Man of the Match: Massimo Donati (Hamilton)
Hamilton boss Martin Canning: “It was a courageous and gutsy performance from the players. At this time of the season desire and determination is important and the last two games have shown we’re up for the fight.
“We’ve got a fire in our belly and we’re prepared to put bodies on the line and work as hard as we can to get points in adverse circumstances.
“It’s never a sending off. Giannis (Skondras) has come across to try and win the ball and the boy has nicked it beyond him. It’s a foul, no doubt, but I think because they’re both going at speed it looks worse.
“I think throughout the season we’ve had a few decisions which haven’t gone our way, but I’m pretty sure every manager would sit and say the same thing.
“I’ve always made a point of never criticising referees, I think they’ve got a difficult job.”
Ross County manager Jim McIntyre: “We will take a point, it’s never easy to break teams down with ten men.
“I’m disappointed with the sloppy start, but it’s a great goal from Hamilton’s point of view. It gave them a lift and for the next ten minutes they were the team in the ascendency. We had to hang in there till we got going.
“Obviously the sending-off is the key talking point. I’ve watched it back and Hamilton are very unfortunate. I’m sure the referee will look at it again and Hamilton will be fine with their appeal – it’s not a red card.
“We’re a long way away from safety. Our mindset is to finish the season as strong as we can and be the best of the rest. We’ve got Celtic up next and that’s a game we’ll look forward to in Dingwall.”