On the 5 year anniversary of Ross County’s League Cup win, the Staggies were faced with the same opponent- Hibernian. In contrast to that nostalgic spring day, County didn’t play particularly well, and came out empty handed. They weren’t helped by circumstances out of their control, but the game as a whole needs to be broken down regardless.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
Predictable, Tentative, but Inoffensive
For the second match in a row, Ross County failed to get their foot on the ball and impose themselves on the match. It was more understandable this week than the last, because of the more threatening opposition, but it was still disappointing to see us simply smash the ball as far up the pitch as possible, hoping for it to drop perfectly. Hibs’ press seemed to scare us into doing this- County seemingly didn’t want the ball to be anywhere near their danger men, even when we were in possession. This resulted in some incredibly tedious play that involved the ball being slammed up to the strikers, who ended up feeding off scraps when they didn’t really have to. Billy Mckay was more effective than Jordan White, but even the former could only fashion some half chances to run forward.
Despite the opening half being the same, monotonous play from a Ross County point of view, the Staggies had a few shining lights, the first of these being Coll Donaldson. Today, the centre back found the balance between risk and reward. He didn’t give the ball away in dangerous areas, he cut out a number of dangerous looking passes, and he was one of the only players attempting to get through the Hibees’ lines with passes on the ground. Two more players who were good in the first half were Blair Spittal and Charlie Lakin. They, like the rest of the team, were both guilty of aimless long passing. However, what we were crying out for today was for more players to carry the ball forward. Spittal and Lakin both did this with their driving runs, proving crucial in getting the Staggies up the pitch.
In retrospect, Ross County might have been better in the first half if players like Paton and Hylton were on from the start. We couldn’t play a passing game, so getting the ball forward by dribbling into the opposing half might be an option John Hughes considers for coming weeks.
Hibs carried more of a threat than County, but they were kept largely quiet, with Martin Boyle fighting the offside flag just as much as the back three of Donaldson, Watson and Iacovitti. The two sides went in at the break level.
When it rains, it pours (figuratively and literally)
It started pouring rain the minute the second half started, which made the game frantic. Both the ball and the players were sliding all over the place, and it was Ross County who initially took advantage of the weather-induced chaos. The ball came into Jordan White, who despite not having the best of games, did really well to knock it down to Billy Mckay, who knocked it home in the exact same way he did for last weeks equaliser against Kilmarnock. At the time, it seemed like a massive goal, but what was to follow took it away immediately.
I’ve spoken about diving at length before, so to avoid sounding like a broken record, I’ll focus on the incident briefly. On the slippery surface, Hibs left back Josh Doig scuffed his shot into the path of Boyle, who seemingly trod on the toes of the bemused Alex Iacovitti before falling to the ground. Referee John Beaton was conned by the dive and pointed to the spot. It was shocking from both Boyle and the referee, but regardless, it was all square at 1-1.
The game had truly sprung to life by this point and Boyle, seemingly desperate to grab the headlines, left Leo Hjelde in a heap on the ground with a heavy challenge. He got himself a yellow card for his troubles, which was the correct decision, but the Aussie wasn’t done yet. He ran into the box at Keith Watson, and despite being in a decent position, threw himself to the deck once more under absolutely no contact. The dive resulted in nothing, but Boyle should have seen a second yellow card for simulation, and have been off.
The Staggies did their best to put their misfortune to the back of their minds, and in all honesty they should have been 2-1 up in the 55th minute. The ball dropped at a free kick for Keith Watson, who found himself in acres of space, but he seemed not to expect it and his rushed shot was straight at Marciano in the Hibernian goal. The rebound fell to Jordan White, and to be fair to the big striker it was at an awkward height for him, but he’ll know he should have done better than shoot tamely into the grateful Marciano’s arms.
Hibs got forward quickly after this County chance, and Ross County were bailed out by Laidlaw who saved one on one with Boyle. However, County couldn’t get the ball away, and Boyle found substitute Kevin Nisbet at the back post who had a tap in. It was really poor marking from County who in recent weeks have shown brilliant defensive structure.
Gaffer John Hughes wasted no time in making substitutions to try and save County, bringing on Jermaine Hylton, Michael Gardyne, Harry Paton, Ross Draper and Oli Shaw for Blair Spittal, Charlie Lakin, Jordan Tillson, Coll Donaldson and Alex Iacovitti, changing the shape into an incredibly attacking 4-4-2. Our efforts to get back into the game were much like Kilmarnocks’ last week- we were better than Killie, but the ball simply wouldn’t drop for us. Out of all the attacking players that came off the bench, Draper was the best of them, powering forward at every opportunity, and causing problems. Harry Paton was similarly good, keeping the ball well while being a threat.
The likes of Hylton, Gardyne and Shaw didn’t really have the best of games though, for all their qualities they all lacked the cutting edge to grab a point today.
There was one last piece of controversy, with Newell earning a yellow card for a bad challenge on Paton. What was bad about this was watching him kick the ball away every time County had a free kick or throw in. There was a sense of bemusement as he committed a yellow card offense repeatedly.
After the dust had settled, it was over. We can talk now, but ultimately it finished Ross County 1-2 Hibs.
Next week, County play their final game before the split. This comes away to new League Cup holders St. Johnstone. Despite today’s controversy, we need to play better if we’re to win. We should be less afraid of taking risks, and stop kicking the ball far into the sky at every opportunity. The Saints are a good team, and carry a threat, but if the best version of Ross County, the one we’ve been seeing steadily more often after the appointment of John Hughes, then I believe we can pick up all three points.