In a season full of important games for the relegation threatened Staggies, a game against bitter rivals Inverness Caledonian Thistle feels just as big as the league matches. It’s an emotion filled fixture, and the perfect opportunity for County to show why they’re a league above their Highland enemies.
A game like no other
In terms of personnel, it’ll be interesting to see whether the managers of both teams go with players with Highland Derby experience, to reduce the risk of players becoming nervous and hiding from responsibility, or try to resume business as normal and play their preferred setup. It will likely be a mix of both, as both sides have regular starters with derby experience.
Regardless of the lineups, the match will probably take the same pattern the Highland Derby always does. There’s a reason that only outsiders call it the “friendly derby”. To the contrary, it’s always a very fiery affair decided almost purely on the instincts of the players on the pitch, which I think is why there’s been so many goals over the years that have been out of the ordinary, creative, split second ideas. Of course, this is largely due to both sets of fans egging on their players. In an empty stadium, it’ll be interesting to see if the match picks up where the two sides left off (with a fight at the end of a 2-1 Staggies win nearly two years ago).
It’s perhaps a generic prediction for a derby but I truly believe that the winner will be the team that channels their aggression more effectively.
Ross County FOCUS
Before the international break, it had been a demoralising few weeks for the Staggies. They went from a morale boosting victory against relegation rivals Kilmarnock to losing to Hibs via a series of poor refereeing decisions, and then went on to put in a poor, uninspiring performance against St. Johnstone, losing the game to a late Glenn Middleton strike.
These losses were largely due to a poor transition from defence to attack- without Iain Vigurs, County struggled for a ball carrier to drive up the pitch. As a substitute, wayward long passing meant the Staggies kept giving the ball away and putting themselves under constant pressure while creating very few chances at the other end of the pitch. If they go back to passing it on the ground effectively like they did in wins against Hibs in December and Aberdeen in January, they have a big chance of overwhelming their rivals come the match later today.
The visitors Inverness are finding a winning formula under interim boss Neil McCann, being unbeaten in five, winning the last four of those games in a row. In just a few weeks, they have gone from relegation worries to sitting just six points from second place.
In Caley’s last game, they defeated Arbroath 1-0. They put in a fairly comfortable performance, and grabbed their goal through target man Nikolay Todorov.
Under Neil Mccann, ICT have regularly set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. They seem to have a spearhead in attack with Todorov acting as a target man, whilst three attacking midfielders line up behind him, taking a fluid form without strict positional instructions.
Inverness CT have conceded the least amount of goals in the Championship.
Danger Man- Scott Allan
The match fitness of Scott Allan- on loan at Inverness from Hibs, could be a massive factor in Caley’s performance. Allan has been largely sidelined this season due to a combination of injuries and health issues, but due to his quality and willingness to run he could be a real threat to the Staggies. He’s a player that most clubs in the Premiership would love to have, so signing him on loan has been a real coup for Inverness.
Scott Allan made his debut for Inverness last week, coming on as a sub against Arbroath. He received praise as his quality was clear to see. It’s unknown whether he’s fit enough to start, but whenever he does make an appearance, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with. To keep him quiet, County must show discipline in what’s bound to be a heated game, while also being wary not to show him too much respect, as he’s simply a player in an 11 man team.
Ross County: One to Watch – Micheal Gardyne
Ross County’s all time leading goalscorer and appearance holder could cause havoc amongst the Caley defences if he is on top form.
‘Midge’ hasn’t been a nailed on starter in recent weeks, however he could more than likely be thrown in for a start when Caley visit.
The tricky winger also seems to perform well in the Derby, and has scored numerous goals against Inverness. He is very much a person who falls into the category of having Highland Derby experience in abundance, and will be eager to show that County are still very much the better team after almost two years without a derby.
Gardyne as the one to watch could be seen as an emotional pick, but he’s undeniably one of the Staggies’ most skilful players.
In a match usually driven by emotion, it’ll be interesting to see whether it’ll remain the same in the absence of spectators, or if it’ll be more tactics driven. Either way, it’s such an enticing cup tie, and everyone is counting down the hours until the match kicks off on national TV, where the whole country will have its eyes on the fine Victoria Park pitch.