Fragile in defence and wasteful in attack, Aberdeen slumped to a dismal low point of a season that is rapidly becoming flat and uninspiring.
An Aberdeen side which has won just once in five games also looks set to be weaker after the January transfer window.
That will be a sobering thought for supporters watching this shocker remotely from their laptops and television screens.
Ross County set tone for drubbing early
On their previous visit to Dingwall in September, the Dons had overwhelmed Ross County 3-0 in a game where the score should have been far more emphatic.
Within 38 seconds, it was clear there would be no repeat as the Staggies grabbed the opener.
It stemmed from a defensive mistake and ended in a defensive mistake.
A loose ball near the halfway line from Andy Considine was picked up by Iain Vigurs, who passed to Charlie Lakin. Tommie Hoban slipped when attempting to clear Lakin’s ball into the box and Jermaine Hylton capitalised.
His square pass found Oli Shaw, who took a touch then fired beyond Joe Lewis from 15 yards.
It got worse in the 20th minute when Harry Paton was allowed too much time to deliver a cross to Lakin who was completely unmarked in the box.
Shocking defending left him with acres of space on the far side of the penalty area and he fired in from 12 yards.
Soon after that, Derek McInnes switched to a back four and the Dons looked more comfortable and dangerous.
A deep cross from the left by Jonny Hayes was headed on by Curtis Main at the back post to Matty Kennedy, but keeper Ross Laidlaw produced a point-blank save.
Then Scott Wright hit a low 15-yard shot, but Laidlaw spread his body to block with his outstretched left foot.
Aberdeen hit back on the stroke of half-time when Hoban headed on a Hayes corner. It struck Alex Iacovitti and went beyond Laidlaw for an own goal.
Ross County went 3-1 up in the 84th minute when an Iain Vigurs corner was headed across goal by Ross Draper to find Shaw, who fired in on the turn.
Salt was rubbed into the wounds in injury time when a long ball caught out Hoban and Considine. Hylton raced on to it as Lewis powered out of his box to block. The ball bounced off Lewis and fell to Hylton, who rolled it into the empty net.
One win in five games, Scott Wright set to leave, and Ross McCrorie and Jonny Hayes’ injuries looking bad – a season fallen flat?
Fundamental to this defeat was the inability to take chances, so it will be a concern that Scott Wright, one of the main players capable of producing that spark to unlock a defence, looks set to exit.
Rangers have already informed the Dons they are keen on a pre-contract agreement with Wright, but it is understood the Ibrox club hope to fast forward that deal to take him to Glasgow this month.
Pittodrie manager McInnes recently confirmed there will be no new signings during the January window.
However, if Wright, one of the top performers this season, leaves for Ibrox this month, surely any fee received must be used to source a replacement – unless the £350,000 owed to Rangers this summer for Ross McCrorie comes into play.
Even if a fee is secured, there will be little time in the remaining days of the window to source a player with the same talent and creativity as Wright.
Aberdeen also face major injury fears over Ross McCrorie and Jonny Hayes, who both left the stadium on crutches.
It would a big blow if McInnes is denied his midfield duo of McCrorie and Lewis Ferguson again.
The January transfer window can make or break a season and Aberdeen, as it stands, look destined to emerge from it weaker than when it opened.
Lack of goals from strikers continues
None of Aberdeen’s strikers were able to add to their tallies for the season in Dingwall, although the quality of service has to also come under the microscope.
Curtis Main never once threatened the Staggies’ goal. He puts in lots of effort, but must start scoring to justify a place in the side.
Meanwhile, Sam Cosgrove’s open-play goal drought also went on. His poor touch in a dangerous position shows just how low on confidence last season’s top scorer is.
Bruce Anderson came off the bench and must use the second half of the season to push his way into the first team.
He was recalled from a loan spell at Ayr United where he scored just two goals.
There’s a chance to stake a claim with a misfiring front line.
Opta stats show Aberdeen managed 15 shots across the 90 minutes, most of them in the first half, but only got five on target. Only one of the five was from Cosgrove or Main.
The Dons also had 31 crosses and six corners during the 90 minutes. Just one goal – Tommie Hoban’s deflected header – is a dismal return.
Every time Celtic falter, Aberdeen fail to capitalise
The prospect of emerging from January weakened is a concern for a team that has taken just one point from the three games since the turn of the year.
Aberdeen have scored just twice in those three games, with both those goals coming when 2-0 down against Rangers and two down in Dingwall.
Yet again, Aberdeen failed to capitalise on Celtic dropping points after the Parkhead side drew 0-0 with Livingston.
The troubled defending champions, sitting second, are squandering points but Aberdeen keep wasting chances to punish that. Increasingly slim hopes of Champions League qualification are slipping through Aberdeen’s fingers.
This could be a season of regrets.
What if they had taken the chances to pick up points on Celtic to really pile the pressure on when the Hoops slip up?
What if Aberdeen had strengthened in the window?