As I sit here, with everything hurting due to all the screaming and jumping about, I’ll give some thoughts on how the Staggies have managed to pull off a famous, crucial 1-0 win against Celtic. Coming into the game, I had no confidence whatsoever, but what just transpired was nothing short of inspiring.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
In the preview, I was nervous that both not giving Celtic any respect and giving them a world of it would end in a County defeat- perhaps a heavy one. This shows why I’m not a manager, or a footballer. I’ve learned that it matters where you are on the pitch, and the specific situation you’re in. The Staggies used their street smarts to see where Celtic would be vulnerable, and when they were dangerous. In both kinds of situations, they were efficient and assured.
There were a few moments where things could have gone wrong, and when we had to ride our luck. In these moments, it was clear that Celtic smelled blood. This didn’t affect us. The likes of Alex Iacovitti, who so often this season have struggled under pressure, refused to crumble under the weight of having to keep the likes of Odsonne Edouard and David Turnbull under wraps.
Keith Watson deserves a special mention, he hasn’t had the most games in the heart of defence this season but he was immense when he came on for the injured soldier Callum Morris. He’d have been forgiven for being slightly shaky due to lack of playing time but he showed why, despite not always playing, he’s a staple of the squad and we wouldn’t be the same without him.
This game was never going to be easy on the eye if County were to get a result, and County fought for every inch (particularly on the halfway line and on the edge of the box). As the lone striker, Jordan White had to feed off scraps, and worked relentlessly to get the Staggies up the pitch. He absolutely bullied arguably Celtic’s most in form player in Stephen Welsh, and when he got his only chance of the game, he grabbed it with both hands. When the ball came to him from the right boot of Harry Paton, there was only going to be one result.
At the other end of the pitch, when the ball came to Celtic in the penalty area, it was all hands on deck. Due to the sheer fight of every man in a County shirt, the players of vast quality Celtic possess couldn’t get an inch. When they did, the brilliant Ross Laidlaw got a hand to it. Celtic gave us no time to doubt or brood on whether or not we could keep the clean sheet, so all we could do was put everything on the line to make it happen.
Today was a prime example of why I think highlighting a lack of fight for County’s problems is invalid. When having our backs to the wall for 90 minutes, the Staggies looked to each other to get out of tight situations. No player previously guilty of trying to do too much on their own tried to completely shoulder the responsibility. This was especially evident at our own corner flags. Instead of booting it up and hoping for the best, or even trying to dribble out of trouble, Tremarco, Naismith, and the backtracking midfielders always looked for an outball, then trusted that outball to do their job.
It’s said you get the full measure of a person’s character when things are at their toughest, and I think we can extend that to the entire Ross County team tonight. Players you’d be forgiven for not expecting to dig in like Kelly and Andreu because of simply being on loan and having a short time at the club respectively rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in. I respect them infinitely for it. It would be so easy for them to disassociate with the club.
I haven’t mentioned John Hughes thus far, which is a massive disservice to the man. He got the lineup perfect tonight. At first glance, it looked far too brave and naive- full of attacking players. After kickoff, it became clear that he wasn’t simply “having a right guid go”. He was going for tenacity and players to make Celtic question their dominance. Blair Spittal, back from his League 1 loan, didn’t give Celtic anything when they were in his area of the pitch. Hughes would have faced a lot of criticism for picking him if things went differently, which shows how much ‘Yogi’ trusts Spittal to perform for him.
This is the key thing I think Hughes has brought to the Staggies, despite continued inconsistency. Trust. Players like Iacovitti who can look shaky and nervous would be ten times worse if they didn’t have a manager who would continue to nurture their game despite their questionable form, and due to this trust he has a group of players who’ll put everything on the line to perform for them.
How many times this season County have defeated a top team and not built on it. It’s important that this is a time we assert we deserve to be in the Premiership. St. Mirren are truly a well drilled side that have a good atmosphere around them due to much loved manager Jim Goodwin. They’ll look at tonight’s result and relish the opportunity to take down the team that took down the champions. Here’s hoping we can be the ones taking the points.