HAMILTON Accies’ seven-year stay in the Premiership was all but over last night after Charlie Lakin’s winner took hosts Ross County to the brink of safety.

Scott McMann’s 26th minute opener for the visitors was immediately wiped out by a Blair Spittal reply, but it was Lakin’s stunning 70th minute strike that nudged County clear of automatic relegation and to within a point of safety.

Accies, the top-flight’s great survivors for so many seasons, would now need to overturn a massively superior Kilmarnock goal difference in miraculous fashion by hammering them 9-0 at home on Sunday to stay in the division.

County, away to Motherwell that day, now need a draw to remain in the Premiership and dodge the play-offs after Kilmarnock’s share of the spoils with St Mirren.

It was a might of ragged, nervy and often chaotic confrontation between two teams carrying with them a hint of panic and a distinct air of desperation.

But County’s second back-to-back wins of the campaign - the first having come in the opening two matches - had them celebrating at the final whistle.

Both teams came into the crunch match on the back of long-awaited victories.

Accies, who had snatched a precious three points away to St Mirren on May 1, made just one change with skipper Brian Easton back in defence and Kyle Munro dropping to the bench.

County were claiming a vital three points at Tannadice on the same day and they were unchanged from that triumph.

The latter triumph over Dundee United left them needing three points to kill any chance of sliding into the automatic relegation spot, but they knew if results here and at Rugby Park went awry they could end the evening bottom of the table.

Accies, a point adrift of second bottom Kilmarnock at kick-off, simply knew they had to win.

The technical areas were unusually quiet with both John Hughes and opposite number Brian Rice, his former assistant at several clubs, both banned and seated in the stands.

Great friends to this day, the apur chose opposite sides of the ground from which to watch and can’t have been overjoyed with what they saw unfold in a messy, sluggish first 25 minutes.

An extremely cagey start produced two early bookings and a third after 20 minutes, but no goalmouth action at all.

That would suddenly change inside 26 minutes.

Accies' opener was swift and lethal, stemming from a free-kick award right on the Staggies’ 18-yard line after Scott McMann was tripped by County midfielder Jordan Tillson.

McMann took it himself and, with County’s wall leaping, drilled a superby low effort under their feet and past a near motionless Ross Laidlaw.

County, though, responded almost immediately.

Less than two minutes later, a high ball forward was neatly knocked down by Jordan White and Blair Spittal grasped his chance with relish, absolutely thundering a low strike into the bottom right corner of the net.

That would be the Dingwall team’s only meaningful threat in the first half, though.

It was becoming increasingly chaotic and just before the half hour mark uncharacteristic slackness saw Michael Gardyne lose the ball clumsily in midfield.

Ross Callachan strode onto it, pushed on and then smacked the lower left hand post with a thumping attempt from 20 yards.

Accies had their tails up towards half-time, but couldn’t restore the lead before half-time.

Early in the second half, play tore from end-to-end with County’s Spittal flashing an angled right foot attempt wide of the far post.

The hosts were certainly livelier, but Accies responded with Jamie Hamilton’s long angled ball into the box headed just over the bar by McMann from within a crowded area.

It was McMann again, almost on the hour, who marauded clear on the left and saw his clipped cross finding Callachan going close with a rising header just over the bar.

Injury forced the County technical area into a 65th minute substitution that proved pivotal in sending them after just five minutes later.

Charlie Lakin replaced Celtic loanee Leo Hjelde after he suffered injury.

Lakin is prone to inspired moments and his instant, low left foot strike from the left of the box was a brilliant connection to cap a fine move ending in another neat White lay-off.

With Kilmarnock winning at home to St Mirren, Accies’ deficit meant relegation unless something changed in either of the two ties.

The visitors made a swift change after losing the second goal, with left winger Nathan Thomas on for skipper Brian Easton.

Almost immediately Thomas supplied David Moyo for a header over the bar.

The away team mounted an aerial bombardment, with hit and hope deliveries testing County but becoming increasingly desperate as the minutes ticked by.

County could have sealed it with a minute remaining when substitute Harty Paton tore clean through on the away keeper but held his head in despair after rippling the side-netting.