White and McKay Leave Rice with a Hangover*
*credit to David Boag for the top tier title
There are two ways to look at what just happened, as Ross County came from behind to win 2-1. The first 80 minutes of the game, and the final ten. The lesson from today is sometimes in football you have to do things that don’t make logical sense, and things can change in your favor very quickly.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
Expectation vs Reality
As Peter said in the preview to this match, games against Hamilton come with a sense of expectation. From the start, this worked against the Staggies in two ways- number one, for a team that fell to defeat to their other relegation rivals in the previous week, confidence was clearly low and the expectation might have been overwhelming. Number two, Hamilton have been favourites for relegation ever since they came into the top flight. By extension, they know how to handle being underdogs. They played their game, and limited County from utilizing the possession they had. They pressed up the pitch, and Ogmkpoe nearly scored for the Accies.
County continuously attempted to play like the favourites, but they over complicated things when sometimes it’s better to throw the ball forward. Throw the ball forward Hamilton did- Bruce Anderson was released down the right beyond the Staggies’ high line, and despite the best efforts of Callum Morris, Anderson put the ball across the area on the second attempt and it was bundled in by Stephen Kelly into his own net.
When the goal went in, I was annoyed as I thought the Staggies were the better team up to that point. However, Hamilton fully deserved their goal as County played right into their hands. What was to follow up to the half time whistle however, left me exasperated.
Slide to the left, slide to the right, criss-cross, give it away.
I’m not exaggerating when I say the last half an hour of the first half was some of the worst football I’ve seen Ross County play. The point of playing low tempo football is to keep the ball and keep risk taking to a minimum while you try and figure out a plan to break down the opposition defence. Not only did we not look threatening in the slightest, we also looked shaky and likely to give it away with every pass, touch, throw in, and goal kick. Hamilton were quite rightly content to sit back- County could barely get the ball past their midfield line, and when they did it was swept up by the Accies back three. It was obvious the Staggies were bereft of ideas, we were outrageously passive. I take notes in a notebook during every game, and I wrote “DO SOMETHING” at the forty minute mark. The pattern continued, unassured passing from left to right and giving it away under no pressure.
The majority of the second half was much of the same, but with a few moments of hope. John Hughes clearly told his side to be more direct and make more forward passes even if it meant Hamilton had more possession. As a result, only around 30 seconds after the restart Harry Paton was through on goal. Frustratingly, the Canadian fired straight at Accies stopper Ryan Fulton. This positive passage of play should have been the sign for County to keep playing direct football, to drive at Hamilton instead of lethargically passing it around- trying and failing to emulate prime Barcelona. Fail to emulate prime Barcelona they did. Up until the 80th minute, the Staggies did almost nothing of note. It was the same passing to the side and backwards it was in the first half, apart from Tony Andreu hitting the post with a header, which was the only other slightly positive thing County did until the 80th. Adding to our woes, skipper Iain Vigurs had to be substituted with an ankle problem. Everyone of Staggies affiliation will hope he makes a swift recovery.
Vigurs was replaced by the new number 26- Jordan White. The former Motherwell man grabbed the headlines later in the game…
After the second half being just as mind numbingly slow and passive as the first from a County point of view, Hughes clearly knew it was simply time to roll the dice. He used his remaining four substitutions- Charlie Lakin replaced Jermaine Hylton, Michael Gardyne took over from Harry Paton, Carl Tremarco came on in place of Alex Iacovitti and Billy McKay was on for Oli Shaw.
The substitutions signalled a very simple instruction for Ross County- throw the kitchen sink at the game, along with the rest of the house. The Staggies ran forward in number, and Jason Naismith scuffed a shot on the edge of the box. White, after all the question marks over his quality, resourcefully stabbed home under pressure. It was such an important goal, and all of a sudden the wind was back in the County sails.
After the entire game being lethargic and frustrating, but the equaliser made me so confident we’d go on to score another. We continued to bomb forward, and Jordan White solidified a man of the match performance by beating the offside trap like Bruce Anderson did in the first half, and squaring across the box for Billy McKay to score his second Premiership goal of the season. Both of which have come at New Douglas Park. It would have been a concern that having brought so many attacking players on, the Staggies would struggle to see the game out, but Hamilton had put so much energy into keeping their lead they had nothing left in the tank to chase the game.
Dundee United visit Dingwall on Saturday. Instead of looking nervously to the match after a defeat, County will have the late victory fresh in their memory as they take on the Terrors. Stay tuned, and we’ll have the preview for you very soon!