In what was the biggest game of the season, Ross County have ground out a 3-2 win against Kilmarnock. It was an absolute rollercoaster of a match, but the Staggies were good value for their victory.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
In the first few minutes of the game, County wasted no time in getting the ball into Kilmarnock’s final third, with the likes of Billy McKay, Blair Spittal and Jason Naismith linking up well. Neither side had any clear cut chances, with several shots from distance being skewed wide. The difference between the two once the game “settled” was that the Staggies were incredibly nervy at the back, and Kille smelt blood. Coll Donaldson in particular made a few mistakes that gave possession back to the Ayrshire side.
There remained no obvious goalscoring opportunities for either side in the opening 20 minutes, but it was Killie who took the game by the scruff of the neck and put Ross County to the sword. Kille got the ball at the second phase from their free kick, and Lafferty forced the ball through a Staggies defence who were claiming for handball and finished into the bottom left corner past Laidlaw. It was a gut punch for County, but with the game being so even in the first half, you can’t say that Kilmarnock didn’t deserve the lead having forced something to happen.
The Staggies attempted to get on the front foot immediately to no avail. Charlie Lakin kept trying to pass the ball through for the marauding Carl Tremarco but a combination of slack passing from Lakin and Tremarco not quite having the pace to get to the ball meant this avenue was ineffective. The latter ended up going off with a hamstring injury, and was replaced by loanee Leo Hjelde.
The next ten minutes was taken by Kilmarnock really putting their foot on the pedal, denying Ross County any chance of getting out of their half. The Staggies were really struggling to get their foot on the ball- they either hooked it up to the strikers or out of play, and when they did try and pass it on the ground it was swiftly cut out by a Kilmarnock player.
County were always in with a chance though, with Blair Spittal working himself some space on the edge of the Kilmarnock box. His left foot shot went just over though. Kyle Lafferty was booked for smacking the face of Iacovitti. It was a little bit petulant but I don’t think it was anything more than a yellow. This nervy moment for Kille was a sign of things to come, however.
Time to get on with it
Too many times this season, Ross County have been guilty of letting morale drop when they concede. Make no mistake, Kilmarnock were totally dominant after their goal. However, despite being visibly frustrated at going behind, the Staggies did an admirable job of defending their goal. They still couldn’t get a foot on the ball, but they kept themselves in the game long enough to get back into it. Get back into it they did. Jordan Tillson won the ball after it was cleared from the Kille box and played it to Naismith, who crossed it brilliantly into Billy McKay who scored the classic poachers finish that he’s known for. It wasn’t pretty, but County were back in the game.
Up until half time, the game took largely the same pattern as it did for the majority of the half- scrappy, with neither side creating much in terms of shooting chances. The two sides went in at the half with the game on the balance.
Time to keep pressing on
Kilmarnock absolutely fell asleep after coming out for the second half, assuming the game would still be scrappy and even. The Staggies on the other hand wasted no time in getting forward with the ball on the ground, Spittal passed to Naismith who drilled it through to Leo Hjelde in acres of space on the left, who buried a composed finish beyond his years past Doyle in the Kille net. It was an absolutely massive goal that put County in the ascendency in the biggest game of the season so far, and they were hungry for more.
It was another really simple, direct attack, in which the outstanding Tillson won the ball and played it forward to the alert McKay, who produced a moment of magic by taking it past Medley and smartly finishing past Doyle. It was a two minute double for Ross County that put them in the driving seat and ultimately won them the game, however, it wasn’t quite over at that point.
Time to see it out
County remained comfortable on the ball, and happy to let Kilmarnock lump it forward to no avail. After Kilmarnock were lucky not to concede a penalty, with Billy McKay being brought down in the box, Tommy Wright knew it was time to roll the dice. He brought on the dangerous winger Chris Burke for centre back Zechariah Medley, and made a like for like change in central midfield, with Dabo replacing Dicker. It was a change of shape to 4-4-2 for the Ayrshire team, and it gave them the attacking power to really test County. Burke looked dangerous every time he was on the ball, and Dabo did a really good job of getting some control of the midfield back to Kilmarnock.
It was a naive moment from an experienced, usually reliable player that got Kille back in the game. Instead of seeing a trickling ball out for a goal kick, Keith Watson showed too much of it to Greg Kiltie, panicked, and brought the 24 year old forward down. It was a stonewall penalty, which Kyle Lafferty smashed home emphatically. It was 3-2 going into the final ten minutes.
Despite the silly penalty, County saw the game out incredibly well. Kilmarnock had a few set pieces, which we handled. They had some shots from range, which we handled, and they threw men forward, which we handled. The game was closer in the end than it needed to be, but the Staggies deserve enormous credit for refusing to buckle to the waves of attacks they faced. The match culminated in Millen of Kilmarnock being given his second yellow card of the afternoon for dissent.
The final whistle went, and it was an enormous, deserved three points that stayed in Dingwall.
Next week comes another big game against a Hibernian side that remain dangerous despite losing their last two matches to Motherwell and St Johnstone respectively. Despite them always carrying a threat it’s clearly a better time to play them than the postponed game a few weeks ago. Now, we’re coming into it off the back of a win, with them coming off the back of a defeat.
I’m cautiously optimistic of the Staggies continuing this seasons’ unbeaten run against the Easter Road side.