Ross County make winning start on return to top flight

Ross County unfurled the Championship flag and then celebrated their return to the top flight with a commanding performance against Hamilton.

First-half goals from Joe Chalmers and Billy McKay and another from Ross Stewart early in the second period wrapped up an impressive 3-0 victory on the eve of the 25th anniversary of County’s first Scottish League match.

Accies survived two pieces of early drama unscathed as County sought to quickly establish superiority.

Ciaran McKenna was yellow-carded after just 40 seconds for a handball offence judged to be just outside the 18-yard box.

County players claimed for a penalty on that occasion and gave vent to their frustration again after eight minutes when Liam Fontaine’s header from Josh Mullin’s corner was scrambled clear, in the belief that the ball had already crossed the goal-line.

Apart from a couple of isolated counter-attacks, Hamilton continued to flirt with danger but the home side were unable to capitalise on their enterprising approach play.

But, having lost McKenna to injury after 16 minutes, Accies then conceded a goal on the half-hour mark.

McKay rolled the ball into Chalmers’ path and the striker executed a perfect left-foot finish, curling his shot just wide of the despairing Owain Fon Williams and squeezing it inside the far post.

County stung their rivals with a second goal six minutes later after the defence failed to spot the threat posed by McKay lurking with intent at the back post and paid the price. Stewart supplied the ammunition and McKay finished from close range.

Scott McMann attempted to cut into County’s advantage with a decent effort from long range that was close enough to the target to earn a round of applause.

But it was Fontaine who went closest to scoring a third goal when his audacious dipping attempt from wide right nearly caught out Fon Williams, who was relieved to scramble the ball over the crossbar on the stroke of half-time.

Accies displayed greater purpose at the start of the second half and McMann and Marios Ogkmpoe put Ross Laidlaw under pressure, particularly the latter with a powerfully struck shot.

But just when it seemed that the visitors might yet make a game of it up popped Stewart to head County further in front when he rose unopposed to guide a Mullin free-kick into the net in the 57th minute.

Blair Alston drew a double save from Laidlaw and Ogkmpoe shot over, but County could have extended their lead when Fon Williams saved late efforts from Fontaine and Brian Graham.

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