Schalk strikes at death to win League Cup for Ross County
ALEX SCHALK'S dramatic last-gasp goal gave Ross County a 2-1 Scottish League Cup final victory over Hibernian at Hampden Park to take a major trophy back to Dingwall for the first time.
Staggies midfielder Michael Gardyne opened the scoring in the 25th minute before the Championship side drew level through defender Liam Fontaine seconds before the interval. However, in the final minute of the 90, Schalk was on hand to hammer the ball into the net from a yard out after Fontaine had put it in his path in trying to clear a Gardyne cross.
It was tough luck on Hibs, who had the bulk of possession and attempts on goal. However, the triumph for County - who only joined the Scottish Football League in 1994 - in their first League Cup final marked a great double for Highland football, given rivals Inverness are holders of the William Hill Scottish Cup.
In an open start to the match, a snap-shot from 25 yards after 12 minutes from Hibs striker Jason Cummings had Gary Woods stretching to tip the ball over for a corner, which came to nothing, but the Staggies goalkeeper had to foil Hibs captain David Gray moments later. With the game being played mainly in the Ladbrokes Premiership side's half, Woods saved from Anthony Stokes after the striker made a yard of space for himself inside the County box.
The Staggies had shown little in attack before they scored with their first and only shot on goal in the first half. Midfielder Jackson Irvine intercepted Kevin Thomson's pass to Stokes and drove forward before playing in Gardyne and, despite the best efforts of midfielder Marvin Bartley, he rounded Mark Oxley and slid the ball into the net.
Hibs were stunned and it took some time for them to get back on track, defender Darren McGregor heading over from a Gray cross before the Hibees skipper failed to connect properly just yards out after finding himself in the end of a Liam Henderson corner.
Woods then made another decent save from Cummings and it looked like County would take their lead into the break. But, with seconds of the first 45 minutes remaining, Hibs deservedly drew level following another Henderson corner. It was flicked on by Gray and, when it fell to Fontaine, he turned and fired high into the net for only his second goal of the season, sending the huge Hibs support wild with delight and changing the half-time team-talk of both bosses.
Hibs carried their dominance into the second-half, with Stokes driving just wide in the 53rd minute. Brian Graham replaced the ineffective Liam Boyce just before the hour mark and minutes later the striker went down after catching an arm in the face in a challenge with Bartley. The Easter Road midfielder saw a yellow card from referee Kevin Clancy, which might have been red.
Ross County looked to hit on the break but those bursts forward were few and far between and, when Graham got the ball in the net in the 75th minute, he was ruled correctly offside. In the 79th minute, Hibs goalkeeper Oxley did well to parry a Schalk free-kick down at his right post but was given the benefit of the doubt by referee Clancy moments later when Graham again had the ball in the net, the official deeming his challenge on the Englishman to be illegal.
The game looked to be heading into extra-time, but Gardyne summoned up some energy to drive forward and, when Fontaine, in his bid to clear the cross, knocked the ball straight to Schalk, he gleefully rammed the ball in from a yard out.
County had to hold out for four minutes and more of added time - Woods tipped over a Fontaine shot - but the final whistle signalled Highland history.