A lot of pride swallowing needs to be done in this Ross County team. Despite being in the league below, Inverness were the better side throughout, and walked out of the first Highland Derby in two years deserved 1-3 victors. Here’s how the two sides lined up, although, you may have to squint as County didn’t turn up at all.
The Staggies started the match tentatively, and it seemed to be Caley that reminded them that they were in a derby, with Scott Allan shooting narrowly wide within 30 seconds, albeit the linesman flagged him offside. County should have taken this as a wake up call, but they remained loose in possession, and looked afraid of forward passes. Danny Devine headed wide shortly after.
Inverness were very clear about what they wanted to do. Nikolay Todorov had the beating of both Coll Donaldson and Keith Watson in the air, and unsettled Ross County’s defence every time he got near the ball. At the other end, Caley were content to clear their lines when they got the ball, as the Staggies only ever tried to link up when they were in Inverness’ third of the pitch. This meant that Caley could consistently get the ball up to their main attacking outlet in Todorov, while County struggled to get the ball up to Billy Mckay and Oli Shaw, with both having to drop unnecessarily deep.
Inverness got the ball forward quickly, and the Staggies were lucky to see them caught offside on a number of occasions, with their back four disorganised and shaky.
Reality to Euphoria to Reality
Despite this poor play, it was County who took the lead, with Billy Mckay deftly heading in from a corner. It was a well taken goal from a set piece which is exactly the thing to lift a team putting in a poor performance. However, as John Hughes has stressed so many times over the past few months, you’re at your most vulnerable when you score. Inverness did not feel sorry for themselves, they hit it up to the ever-present Todorov, who earned a free kick. It was floated in, knocked down, and Todorov himself volleyed home.
Inverness were fired up by going a goal down, while in contrast, County looked clueless after conceding an equaliser. The game took much the same pattern as it did before the goals, for the rest of the half. The Staggies still could not transition from defence to attack, which has been one of their main downfalls this season.
From Reality to… worse…
John Hughes, for all his clear passion and enthusiasm, failed to get a reaction out of his players with whatever he said at half time. Caley started the second half on the front foot, and had the Staggies scrambling to clear their lines from the get go.
Despite this early second half dominance, it was a counter attack that put Inverness into the lead. Ross County had a corner on the left hand side, and it was headed clear. The ball eventually fell to Daniel MacKay in the County half, and he got past not only Leo Hjelde but his fellow loanee in Charlie Lakin too. After he had those two chasing his shadow, MacKay slotted the ball home coolly through the legs of the onrushing Ross Laidlaw. There’s no questioning the brilliance of the goal from the 19 year-old, but serious questions have to be asked of the aforementioned County players- particularly Lakin and Hjelde. Footballers are taught at a really early age to show their man wide, so for not one, but two defending players to let MacKay cut inside and shoot was desperately poor defending, and a perfect summary of where the Staggies find themselves right now.
Roll the Dice…
For the ten minutes after Inverness went in front, they were in control. Their lead was something they’d fought for, so they scrapped for every inch to keep it, and were clearly intent on building on it. Hughes saw that his current system wasn’t working, with Charlie Lakin being stifled on the left, Oli Shaw being so isolated he wasn’t in the match, Iain Vigurs being not his usual self on the ball, and Michael Gardyne being uncharacteristically anonymous.
Regan Charles-Cook was brought on for Gardyne, and went out on the right wing. Jermaine Hylton came on for Iain Vigurs and went on the left wing, placing Charlie Lakin in central midfield. Jordan White came on for Oli Shaw, hoping to pose a different type of problem to the Caley centre backs.
These changes swung the momentum pendulum in County’s favour, but they still didn’t look like they themselves believed that they’d score. Hylton and Charles-Cook were a breath of fresh air with their willingness to take on and beat their respective markers, but once they got past them, their end product was poor. Charles-Cook put in one enticing cross that Brad McKay nearly headed into his own net, but after that he went back to running past Robbie Deas and smashing his crosses high above the Staggies players in the penalty area. On the other side, Lakin sent in a cross from deep that Jordan White headed narrowly over.
From that point onwards though, there was nothing happening for County. It went from bad to worse for them as they committed men forward, leaving space in behind. The Staggies back four was all over the place, and the ball fell to Inverness substitute Shane Sutherland, who finished from close range.
The Highland Derby embarrassment was complete.
Despite my love for many of the players in this County team, I can’t look at some of them with anything but disgust right now. Next Saturday we have a monumental game against fellow relegation battlers Kilmarnock, and though we beat them 3-2 last time, it seems their new manager Tommy Wright has finally got them playing his football. If we’re to come out with the victory again, each and every player on the pitch must be the best version of themselves.
As things stand, I question their capability.