Malky Mackay was delighted to repay Ross County chairman Roy MacGregor’s faith by keeping the Staggies in the top flight following the craziest game of his managerial career.
County were 3-0 down on aggregate with 20 minutes left of their cinch Premiership play-off final second leg against Partick Thistle but ended up sealing a sudden-death penalty shoot-out victory three hours after kick-off in Dingwall.
Simon Murray netted 80 seconds after Yan Dhanda’s penalty to transform the complexion of the game and George Harmon put County 3-1 ahead on the day at the start of nine minutes of stoppage time.
There was VAR drama throughout the 90 minutes and chances at either end in extra time before both sides missed penalties in the shoot-out and sudden death. Josh Sims eventually sealed a 5-4 penalties win after Ross Laidlaw had saved Ross Docherty’s spot-kick.
Mackay said: “I actually had the Carling Cup final with Cardiff against Liverpool that went to penalties, and that was a mental game. But this was something else.
“This, being a two-legged play-off and having the responsibility of keeping this club in the Premiership, means a hell of a lot.
“Honestly, I never thought we wouldn’t win. Even at half-time I thought we could score three goals. If we got a goal, I thought they would take a step back and creak, and we would get the momentum, and that’s what happened.”
Mackay added: “As a manager it’s a huge achievement, because we’re a tiny club in the Premiership.
“I’ve read a lot of stuff, and there have been a lot of questions about how brilliant Partick Thistle have been, and they have done terrifically well. It’s quite clear that it would have been lovely for a Glasgow club to go into the Premiership and teams not to have to travel on the A9.
“I get that, but this is a great place and a great club. When players come up they realise what a great place it is and how good the people are running it.”
Mackay held talks with owner MacGregor after a 6-1 defeat by Hearts left County four points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership going into the split.
“My commitment to Roy is as much as his commitment is to me,” he said.
“He could quite easily have decided after the Hearts game that enough was enough, but we had a conversation about how I felt about the run in, and I told him I had the shoulders to carry it. I believed that this group of players could stay in the Premiership, and we’ve done well.”
Thistle had won their previous five play-off games, netting 18 goals in the process, and bounced back from the late blow to produce the better football and the best chance of extra time, which Stuart Bannigan missed.
Manager Kris Doolan said: “I’m devastated as you would imagine. I’m gutted for everyone to be honest because we put so much into the games.
“Half the country was probably behind us, not just Partick Thistle fans. Football is cruel and I know it’s cruel but to go out on penalty-kicks is worse because you feel as if you were so close.”
Three VAR reviews all went against Thistle. They had a penalty claim denied despite Nick Walsh being called to the monitor to view Nohan Kenneh felling Ross Docherty. Brian Graham was penalised after the ball hit his arm, and County captain Keith Watson had a red card rescinded after bringing down Thistle’s goalscorer, Scott Tiffoney.
“The one on Docherty, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t given,” Doolan said. “From where we were it was blatant penalty.
“When he is brought over to the monitor you assume, it’s pretty blatant because it has been flagged up so I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t given.
“I don’t want to make excuses just on VAR, I feel like you would always be picking on VAR when we lost control of the game at times, five to 10 minutes when they score really quickly. We could have done better.
“Even in extra time we had a couple of chances which we could have scored and I was confident we would have taken one of them. It wasn’t to be, it just wasn’t our day.”