The result was never of paramount importance to Dundee United but their performance in defeat to Ross County was far from ideal.
With a Scottish Cup semi-final just around the corner, boss Micky Mellon will have been hoping his team could head into Hibs at Hampden next weekend in fine fettle.
That they will need to step their game up next Saturday if they are to have any hope of having a shot at glory is clear after first-half strikes from Jordan White and Alex Iacovitti secured all three points for the Staggies.
The 2-0 win at Tannadice lifted the Highlanders out of the relegation play-off spot with two games to go and, while they’ve little to play for in the league, the Terrors will be disappointed to have dropped to ninth.
All roads lead to Glasgow now for the Tangerines, it’s just a shame the surface wasn’t as smooth and tarmacked as they’d have hoped for.
Quick-fire double puts County in commanding position
United were unchanged from their 3-0 Scottish Cup quarter-final win at Aberdeen last Sunday as they warmed up for the aforementioned crucial Hibees clash.
The Terrors showed their intent early on, signalling they weren’t going to take the clash with John Hughes’ relegation-threatened Staggies lightly.
On five minutes, Jamie Robson did well to win a corner with a surging run down the left.
From the resultant Nicky Clark kick, Ryan Edwards connected but his header was caught comfortably by former United stopper Ross Laidlaw.
County were soon up the other end, though, with White nodding over from close range, clattering the ball into an empty Shed.
Another ex-tangerine, Blair Spittal, fired an in-swinger across the box Deniz had to deal with and the stand-in goalkeeper looked sharp as he punched away the subsequent corner.
Marc McNulty, brace hero at Pittodrie, look energised – with everything good the Terrors did going through the Reading man.
On-loan Rangers kid Stephen Kelly sold Edwards a dummy and fired into the side netting with County’s first real chance on 20 minutes.
They didn’t have to wait long to make the breakthrough, however, as four minutes later White powered a header beyond Deniz.
It was incisive movement on the left flank from Spittal to evade his marker and pick out the County target man, who made no mistake between the posts.
Iacovitti put the Highlanders two to the good on 28 minutes, connecting with a Jason Naismith flick on at the back stick that Deniz tried in vain to keep out.
The sides exchanged blows for 10 minutes until Clark drew a free-kick on the right edge of the visitors area. The 29-year-old stepped up to take the kick himself and curled narrowly over.
Headed into the interval, Michael Gardyne nodded well wide as County appeared happy to slow the game down and let the hosts have the ball.
Mellon rings the changes with a view to Hibs semi
Unfortunately, United weren’t doing much with it and looked like they came out after the break having received a rocket from boss Micky Mellon.
The Tangerines were snapping into tackles and 50-50s looking to regain a foothold in the match.
However, with the men from Dingwall fighting for their lives near the bottom of the Premiership, that was easier said than done.
Mellon looked to switch things up and get a reaction out of his side on 57 minutes as Peter Pawlett, Logan Chalmers and Louis Appere checked in for Ian Harkes, McNulty and Shankland.
McNulty was still struggling from a knock picked up in the opening period but there is no doubt the changes were made with a view to Hampden.
All three subs had an instant impact, with Pawlett driving forward, feeding target man Appere who played in Chalmers to clip a curling shot off Laidlaw’s bar.
From a Clark corner on 72 minutes, Appere and Edwards went down in a heap inside the box but whistler Kevin Clancy wasn’t moved by their protestations.
United’s remaining two subs, youngsters Kerr Smith and Flo Hoti, almost linked up to good effect headed into the final 15 minutes.
The 16-year-old centre-half pinged a magnificently-flighted ball over the top of the entire County cavalry, landing it inches from Hoti’s toe.
Deniz had to look alive with time winding down, tipping Kelly’s long-range strike onto the crossbar before substitute Regan Charles-Cook compounded to hit the post with a follow-up effort from a few yards out.
The Terrors goalie pushed away a speculative effort from White soon after as United looked to save some face with a consolation.
Despite a late push, it never came.
All engines go it wasn’t but you still get the feeling United have plenty left in the tank as they plan a route map for success at Hampden.
Dundee United (4-3-2-1): Deniz (GK); Smith, Edwards, Reynolds (C) (K Smith 65), Robson; Fuchs (Hoti 73), Butcher, Harkes (Pawlett 57); McNulty (Chalmers 57), Clark; Shankland (Appere 57).
Subs not used: Doohan (GK), Sporle, Connolly and Bolton.
Ross County (4-2-3-1): Laidlaw (GK); Naismith, Donaldson, Iacovitti, Hjelde; Tillson, Vigurs (C); Spittal (Charles-Cook 76), Kelly, Gardyne; White.
Subs not used: Hilton (GK), Draper, Shaw, Mckay, Hylton, Watson, Lakin and Paton.
Referee: Kevin Clancy.