03 August 2020 22:43
Liam Donnelly missed a second half spot-kick and debutant Callum Lang saw red as Motherwell tasted defeat in Dingwall. It was a tale of two penalties as Ross Stewart netted for the Staggies in the first-half and Donnelly sent his spot-kick wide for the Steelmen. And the Steelmen's night got even worse when Lang was sent off three minutes from time for a late challenge on Michael Gardyne. The Steelmen, who have yet to win a season opener under gaffer Stephen Robinson, rallied after a sluggish first half but couldn't find their way to goal in a frustrating Premiership opener behind closed doors. Robinson - reportedly on the shortlist for the Bournemouth job - handed debuts to summer signings Ricki Lamie and Nathan McGinley, while Hastie made his second debut in claret and amber following his return on loan from Rangers.
The Fir Park faithful would have been delighted to see David Turnbull make his first start for the Steelmen since May 2019, but the midfielder couldn't make his mark as County's claimed a first home win over 'Well since November 2017. The Steelmen have looked off the pace in pre-season and it was the Staggies who were full of energy and guile in an impressive first half display. The Staggies started the stronger and Trevor Carson, making his first appearance in the Motherwell goal since November 2018, was forced into a terrific instinctive save inside 11 minutes. Former Motherwell man Lee Erwin's flick on found Stewart at the back post and his thumping strike was turned onto the upright by Carson from point-blank range. County continued to see a lot of the ball, with Erwin tormenting the visitors down the flanks.
Erwin's cross was cleared only as far as Paton and when Gallagher dived in on the Canadian midfielder, referee Nick Walsh showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot and booking the Scotland international. Motherwell almost found an instant equaliser when Turnbull's terrific through ball slipped in Chris Long, but his thumping strike smacked off the post and County escaped. Stephen Robinson changed things up at the break with Lang making his debut from the bench, replacing Mark O'Hara. And six minutes into the second half Lang got his first sniff at goal when Turnbull's cross from the right picked him out, but he couldn't keep his effort on target. Sherwin Seedorf replaced Hastie just shy of the hour mark as Robinson looked for a creative spark and his injection of pace down the right almost paid off a few minutes later. Seedorf's inch-perfect cross put the ball on a plate for Lang unmarked, however his header was straight at Ross Laidlaw. Motherwell were handed a huge opportunity to get back on level terms from the penalty spot in 73 minutes when Donaldson was punished for a pull on Jordan White, just moments after he climbed off the bench. Just as it looked like the visitors' luck was going to turn, Donnelly pulled his penalty wide of the target. Motherwell's night went from bad to worse three minutes from time when Lang was given his marching orders for a late one on Gardyne as he broke forward. Ross County: Laidlaw, Randall, McKay (Shaw 84), Erwin (Charles-Cook 74), Vigurs, Iacovitti, Tillson (Draper 84), Paton (Gardyne 65), Donaldson, Stewart, Reid. Motherwell: Carson, Grimshaw, Gallagher, Lamie, McGinley, O'Hara (Lang 46), Donnelly, Turnbull (Watt 83), Polworth, Hastie (Seedorf 59), Long (White 71). Follow Lanarkshire Live Sport onTwitter [email protected], like us on Facebookor find us on Instagramfor the latest sports news, pictures and video. Ross County will open their Premiership campaign against Motherwell tonight hoping to kickstart an improved campaign from last year. Some may look at a 10th place finish, two points ahead of Hamilton Academical in the relegation play-off spot as survival by the skin of their teeth, but the Staggies will have been optimistic that they could steer well clear of any danger. They had eight games left to play before sport was shut down back in March, all of them against bottom-six teams. In fact, County's three games before the split were due to be against St Mirren, Hamilton and Hearts – the three other sides in the battle to avoid relegation alongside them. Last season was a case of 'job done' for County – nothing more, nothing less. From the six games Stuart Kettlewell's men had already played against those rivals, County had only lost once – against St Mirren in November – picking up two wins and three draws from the other five matches. Considering the Staggies only slipped into their season low and final position of 10th in the two weeks before the season came to an early end, after facing Motherwell and Rangers, they would have had confidence that at least a ninth-place finish beckoned if not a push to finish a spot or two higher. It is up, rather than down, Kettlewell will be looking this season. That does not mean there are no question marks for County to answer though. The fact that Dingwall was home to the Premiership's worst defence last season was repeated to the point of boredom for Kettlewell, but in his newly solo role he has taken steps to try and rectify that. Any time there is significant upheaval in a single area of the pitch it is a risk, but it could be well worth the gamble if the new-look County defence can keep the ball away from their own goal more regularly than last year. Speaking of their own goal, there is a new face there too. Ross Doohan's loan move from Celtic may have been the worst kept secret of the Scottish transfer window so far, and he will be keen to show that he can step up to the top flight after two years at Ayr United. Goalkeeper Ross Doohan has moved to Dingwall from Celtic on a one-year loan. Ross Laidlaw will not make it easy for him though, with the former Hibernian stopper used to fighting for his spot as a number two at Easter Road and then reclaiming the gloves after being displaced by Nathan Baxter last season. Further up the pitch, Stephen Kelly's arrival on loan from Rangers could be seen as a bit of a gamble in its own right after Ewan Henderson failed to capture the imagination of the Jail End in a similar move last year. Regan Charles-Cook though is one player who has already drawn praise from Kettlewell and new teammate Billy Mckay. The former Gillingham man reportedly scored an impressive, long-range effort in the Staggies' first pre-season friendly against Aberdeen, with Mckay talking of his excitement at linking up with the new arrival. Preparations in themselves raise another question over County, as they have for every team in the league. In the end, Kettlewell will be satisfied to get games against Aberdeen, Livingston and Celtic – with the less said about the Hibernian debacle the better. County have played intra-squad bounce games on the Victoria Park turf, but that cannot prepare them for the intensity of a Premiership opener. Ross County picked up draws against Aberdeen and Livingston in pre-season, also losing out to Celtic. Some questions are entirely outwith Kettlewell and County's control. This time last year, not many would have seen Livingston in contention for European places for large stretches of the campaign, nor would most have predicted St Johnstone's early season collapse or Hearts' relegation. However, Livingston may find that the pressure of expectation leads to an entirely different campaign this time around – and their opening day defeat in Paisley will hardly breed confidence. Dundee United are the newcomers to the division this year, and with Lawrence Shankland still plying his trade at Tannadice it almost feels like anything could happen if he can adjust to the Premiership. County will be well aware that they pipped United to the Championship title two years ago though, which was also a campaign Shankland was firing on all cylinders for Ayr. It may be an easy prediction to say that the bottom four will be some combination of County, Dundee United, St Mirren and Hamilton, but the Staggies might just fancy themselves to finish at the top of that pack – and if there is another surprise struggler County will back themselves to go even higher. But if all of those question marks are met with positive answers, it might just be possible that they can repeat Livingston's successes and sneak in.