Ross County 2-1 Hearts: Cowie's side win in Dingwall

Don Cowie hailed "unpredictable" Simon Murray after the striker's double boosted Ross County's survival hopes as they secured a first Scottish Premiership win at home to Hearts in over 10 years.

Fine finishes either side of the break saw Murray reach nine league goals for the campaign.

After Stephen Kingsley's magnificent free-kick was ruled out by VAR, Yutaro Oda slammed Hearts back into the game with minutes to spare.

But County, who occupy the relegation play-off spot, held firm and are now just a point behind St Johnstone, while Hearts still have a commanding lead in third.

"The enthusiasm he's got for the game, he is a bundle of energy," interim County boss Cowie said of Murray.

"Sometimes his team-mates don't know what he's going to do. I think that's his biggest strength, he's unpredictable."

There was no hanging about as both sides charged around in search of an opener. Jordan White inexplicably skied a glorious chance high into the stand, before at the opposite end, Kenneth Vargas left the crossbar rattling with a searing strike.

Just as it seemed an energetic half would end in deadlock, Toby Sibbick's pondering in the box allowed the wily Murray to sneak in for a second bite of the cherry. A simple loft was the end product of the striker's persistence.

The Hearts support who made the trek from the capital would have hoped for a quick response, only to see their side's defence fall asleep again.

A slick move allowed Eamonn Brophy to fire the ball into the box, with a deflection setting Murray up perfectly for an emphatic finish high into the roof of the net.

As is the norm, Hearts looked to Lawrence Shankland for an answer, but the captain was left incredulous when he was booked for going down in the box. The striker cried penalty, the referee said dive.

And there was to be more frustration when a vintage free-kick from Kingsley was chopped off after a VAR review. George Wickens was never stopping the cracker, though Shankland's offside positioning was ruled to be blocking the goalkeeper's vision.

Hearts did reduce the deficit when substitute Oda snuck in to arrow into the far corner, but time was not on their side as County retained hope of climbing to safety.

Player of the match - Simon Murray (Ross County)

Murray makes his mark as Hearts drop standards - analysis

County seem to be finding their feet at just the right time, particularly in the home comforts of the Highlands. Their unbeaten run in Dingwall now stands at four games.

All season long, they've had a competent collection of attacking options that really should have had them higher up the table.

Finally, Cowie seems to have found a way to get the best out of his frontline, particularly Murray.

The striker was supported by a energetic and confident side who seem to have been buoyed by their own self-belief, as well as the prospect of dragging Aberdeen or St Johnstone into the dogfight.

Hearts were not their typical selves at a ground they have enjoyed immense success over the past decade. They were flustered at the back - perhaps due to the absence of Frankie Kent - while their attack was blunt. Even Shankland.

The main frustration for the travelling support will decisions on the day, but regardless, they have set a standard far higher that what they showed at one of the league's bottom sides.

Just their second defeat in 17 games in all competitions, Steven Naismith will search for a fast response to ensure Hearts' brilliant season doesn't flicker out.

What they said

Ross County interim manager Don Cowie: "It's a massive three points for us. Hearts are a very good team and I said we'd have to be very good. I thought we were very good.

"I was disappointed for the group they didn't manage to get the clean sheet. It was more evidence of how important our captain is, Jack Baldwin. I thought he was excellent."

Hearts head coach Steven Naismith: "It's disappointing. When we defend the way we did, it gives them the opportunity. It makes our job much harder.

"The fourth official said the goalkeeper was having to lean for his view of Lawrence [Shankland], I disagree with that. I'm a bit disappointed with that decision because I think it's cost us a point."

What's next?

Ross County have the chance to close the gap to Aberdeen when they head to Pittodrie on Saturday, 30 March while Hearts host Kilmarnock at Tynecastle (both 15:00 GMT).