Jack Ross’s prediction that the arrival of John ‘Yogi’ Hughes would give Ross County ‘fresh impetus’ was proved correct as the Staggies left Easter Road with all three points following a 2-0 victory over a lacklustre Hibs side.
Ross made one change to the starting XI that lost narrowly to league-leaders Rangers at the weekend with Christian Doidge returning from suspension to replace Alex Gogic.
All photos by Ian Jacobs
There were a few familiar faces in the visitor’s squad including manager John ‘Yogi’ Hughes who previously captained and manager Hibs, plus Ross Laidlaw and Oli Shaw.
Ahead of kick-off both sets of players took part in a minute’s silence in memory of former Dundee United manager Jim McLean who sadly passed away last week.
Hibs started positively and won a number of corners and free-kicks in the final third but were unable to test Laidlaw.
The first real chance came in the 11th minute when Drey Wright did well to win the ball in midfield before playing a one-two with Kevin Nisbet but his shot was blocked and deflected for another corner.
Moments later a josh Doig cross from the left just evaded Wright and Jordon Tilson managed to clear the danger.
It was the visitors however who opened the scoring against the run of play in the 24th minute when Harry Paton was allowed too much room in midfield and fired a superb 25-yard strike into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
In the next passage of play, Jermaine Hylton’s shot deflected over the bar and from the resultant corner the ball was cleared to Steven Kelly and Dillon Barnes did well to tip his volley over the bar.
Hibs fought back and Doidge headed a Joe Newell free-kick down to the feet of Nisbet but he was crowded out and the danger was cleared.
Doidge had a great chance to equalise when he got on the end of a low cross from Boyle but his first time effort flew over the bar.
In the 36th minute Doidge did well to keep the ball in play and found Doig who cut it back to Newell but Laidlaw did well to save his strike.
Just before the break Ryan Porteous was wrestled to the ground by Alex Iacovitti whilst trying to get on the end of another Newell corner but the referee awarded the free-kick to the Staggies.
Just after the restart Paul Hanlon got on the end of a Newell free-kick but Laidlaw easily saved his header.
In the 53rd minute Martin Boyle was brought down 25-yards from goal and Laidlaw produced a fine save to deny Melker Hallberg from the resultant free-kick.
Ross then made a double substitution with Doig and Wright making way for Lewis Stevenson and Jamie Gullan.
Moments later Laidlaw punched away a Newell corner and Shaw appeared to bundle over Boyle in the race for the ball but the referee waved away the Hibs’ players’ appeals.
Hibs continued to press forward but County looked dangerous on the break and Melker Hallberg was replaced by Stephen McGinn.
Iain Vigurs was fortunate not to be shown a second yellow card for a reckless challenge on Doidge but once again Don Robertson ruled in favour of the visitors.
Doidge almost equalised with a powerful header from a Newell free-kick but the ball flew inches wide of the post.
Moments later the Welshman got on the end of a Jamie Gullan cross but his header was easily saved by Laidlaw.
With 15-minutes remaining Yogi’s men doubled their advantage when Wright’s throw in found Hylton who turned Hanlon and slid the ball into the path of Shaw who side footed it into the empty net.
Moments later Shaw attempted an audacious 45-yard shot which almost embarrassed Barnes but the keeper manager to get back to prevent the goal.
Hibs had another penalty claim denied when Gullan was bundled over inside the area then with seven minutes remaining, Stephen McGinn sent Stevenson clear on the left. The full back looked up and slid a perfect ball into the path of Newell but he completely mishit his effort from 12-yards.
In the dying minutes, Porteous headed just wide from a Newell cross and Ross County held on to secure a valuable three points in their fight against relegation.
After the final whistle Ross told BBC Sportsound:”We didn’t play well enough to win the game. Individually, a lot of our players were below the levels they’ve been at in the main this season.
“Consequently, you’ll be short as a team. We will deserve to be criticised. Faith and trust in the group remains because by and large this season they’ve been good.”
Hughes said: “They deserve that and the thing that pleases me most is a clean sheet. The shape was solid. We caused Hibs all sorts of problems.
“Hibs were the better team in the first 10 minutes. After that we came right into the game and really passed it and took the game to them.”
Hibs: Barnes, P. McGinn, Hanlon, Porteous, Doig, Hallberg, Gogic, Newell, Boyle, Wright, Nisbet. Subs: Samson, Gray, McGregor, Stevenson, Gogic, S.McGinn, Bradley, Gullan
Ross County: Laidlaw, Tremarco, Shaw, Vigurs, Hylton, Watson, Iacovitti, Kelly, Tillson, Paton, Donaldson. Subs: Randall, Gardyne, McKay, Lakin, Wright, Williamson, Doohan
Referee Don Robertson