Hamilton Academical’s seven-year Scottish Premiership stay is all but over after they lost to Ross County.
Kilmarnock’s draw with St Mirren means Hamilton can still catch the Ayrshire side, but they need a nine-goal win when the sides meet on Sunday.
Hamilton led in Dingwall through Scott McMann but were pegged back almost instantly by Blair Spittal.
And Charlie Lakin’s strike condemned them to defeat and means County need a point to avoid the play-off place.
The game was always going to be feisty. Two minutes played and Accies’ Aaron Martin and County’s Stephen Kelly had already picked up cautions. Ross Callachan soon followed for the visitors.
Chances were not quite as frequent. No shots at goal, never mind on target, in the opening 25 minutes. But out of nowhere arrived two goals in two minutes.
McMann won a free-kick on the edge of the box, stepped up, and drove it low into the net to give the visitors the lead.
Then Jordan White held the ball up and laid it into the path of Spittal, who placed it beyond the grasp of Hamilton goalkeeper Kyle Gourlay to level.
Now the game was well and truly alive. Callachan snatched the ball off a sleeping Michael Gardyne in midfield and cracked a shot off the left-hand post.
And the visitors continued to be the better of the two teams, but at the break they were being held when the three points were what they craved.
County started the second half with more attacking intent. White and Gardyne both sent shots wide and Kelly volleyed over.
But Hamilton’s Lee Hodson should have done better with a back-post header that flew over the bar, while Callachan also put a Hodson cross off target.
And Accies were beginning to grow as a force again, winning a series of corners. But as they struggled to get the ball over the line, County made no mistake at the other end.
Lakin collected the ball on the left, and as the covering defender stood off him he was able to rifle a low shot into the bottom far corner.
Hamilton kept the County box busy with delivery after delivery from all angles, but the hosts repelled everything that was thrown at them.
And they could and should have killed the game off. Harry Paton broke on the left but hit the side netting, while Iain Vigurs put a late free-kick over the bar.
Man of the match – Jordan White
What did we learn?
Hamilton to all extents and purposes got their tactics spot on. They created the better and more numerous chances, and the majority of the game restricted County to long range shots.
But two of those long range shots were right on the money, and unless they can find an unlikely nine goals on Sunday, they are set for the Scottish Championship next season.
What did they say?
Ross County manager John Hughes: “I felt Hamilton were the better team for long periods of the game. But to go a goal down, stick in, trust each other and dig it out I’m absolutely delighted for them.
“Hamilton have been different class in the Premiership for a number of years, they’ve got something about them and if I could get that spirit and never say die attitude here on a more regular basis I would take that.”
Hamilton head coach Brian Rice: “I thought we played very, very well. We just couldn’t get over the line. Disappointed is an understatement, we’re absolutely devastated. But the players gave it everything they had and you saw a team playing exceptionally well, but it just wasn’t enough.
“I told them to be brave and they were brave. Everyone in that dressing room is on their knees because they know what they put into the game. To not even draw the game is disappointing but to lose it, that’s just football.”
Both teams complete their season at 12:00 BST on Sunday. Hamilton host Kilmarnock, while County are away to Motherwell.
- 16IacovittiSubstituted forWatsonat 52′minutes
- 4HjeldeSubstituted forLakinat 65′minutes
- 11VigursBooked at 88mins
- 18KellyBooked at 3mins
- 20SpittalSubstituted forPatonat 87′minutes
- 26WhiteBooked at 90mins
- 7GardyneSubstituted forCharles-Cookat 87′minutes
- 16MartinBooked at 2mins
- 5EastonSubstituted forThomasat 75′minutes
- 34CallachanBooked at 20mins
- 18MimnaughSubstituted forSmithat 79′minutes
- 7AndersonSubstituted forSmithat 79′minutes
- William Collum
Match ends, Ross County 2, Hamilton Academical 1.
Second Half ends, Ross County 2, Hamilton Academical 1.
Jordan White (Ross County) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Jamie Hamilton (Hamilton Academical) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jordan White (Ross County).
Attempt missed. Iain Vigurs (Ross County) left footed shot from outside the box is just a bit too high from a direct free kick.
Hand ball by Kyle Gourlay (Hamilton Academical).
Foul by Hakeem Odoffin (Hamilton Academical).
Jordan White (Ross County) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Attempt missed. Harrison Paton (Ross County) left footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Jordan White following a fast break.
Iain Vigurs (Ross County) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Lewis Smith (Hamilton Academical) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Iain Vigurs (Ross County).
Substitution, Ross County. Harrison Paton replaces Blair Spittal.
Substitution, Ross County. Regan Charles-Cook replaces Michael Gardyne.
Foul by Nathan Thomas (Hamilton Academical).
Michael Gardyne (Ross County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Hamilton Academical. Conceded by Stephen Kelly.
Scott McMann (Hamilton Academical) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Blair Spittal (Ross County).