There were many ups and downs for the Staggies today as they drew with fellow relegation battlers Kilmarnock. If they were offered a point before the game today it might have been tempting, but now that the game is over Ross County may wonder if they could have left Rugby Park with all three points.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
The start looked like more of the same for County, as they found themselves a goal down within two minutes. Kilmarnock had a corner, which was cleared as far as McGowan. His cross from the left was deflected the way of Chris Burke, who drilled home a low finish. It was a really poor goal to concede- Burke was unmarked as every County defender and midfielder was ball watching in the six yard box. This goal continues the running theme for County of being unable handle the second phase of set pieces.
It was a pleasant surprise that County didn’t look shaky having conceded so early. They moved the ball infinitely better than they have in recent weeks, and the ball came to Jason Naismith on the right flank. He lofted it in towards Billy Mckay, who with his back to goal, headed into the path of the onrushing Michael Gardyne. The Staggies legend dispatched his first goal in two years, and the score was level at 1-1.
After scoring, County looked leaps and bounds better in possession than they did in games against Hibs, St. Johnstone and Inverness. Iain Vigurs’ passing was sharp, and Ross Draper was tidy on the ball without being spectacular (which is sometimes all you need). The inclusion of Carl Tremarco ahead of Leo Hjelde was crucial, as he was willing to make the overlapping runs that the narrow formation required in order to provide the Staggies any width. Naismith on the other hand was slightly frustrating- rather than make runs he preferred to cross from deep, which did seldom but give the ball back to Killie. This however, was a slight drawback that didn’t take away from the way County were battling for everything, and at the same time showing endless composure.
Despite this promising play on the ball though, it was slack defending that allowed Kilmarnock to renew their lead. Mitch Pinnock got the ball with his back to goal, spun Jason Naismith, and scored past Laidlaw on the swivel. Despite Pinnock being a player with a trick up his sleeve, Naismith was beaten too easily for my liking. There’s also question marks over Ross Laidlaw in the County goal- the shot was relatively close to him, but it found its way through.
Attempt to make amends
Ross County tried to replicate what they had done earlier in the game, and equalise straight away. A cross found its way to Carl Tremarco, who found himself free at the back post. The ball bounced at him quickly though, and he seemed to panic as he headed well over the bar.
After this golden opportunity, the Staggies had a lot of the ball, but failed to create any significant openings. That was until centre back Alex Iacovitti decided to take matters into his own hands. County’s number 16 drove forward through Killie’s midfield line, and knocked it towards Billy Mckay. The Northern Irishman laid it off to Michael Gardyne, but the scorer failed to add to his tally- dragging the ball narrowly wide of the mark with his left foot.
Going into half time, there was perhaps an argument for County having been the better team. It was frustrating that the downfall was schoolboy defending, but they channeled their frustration well after the break. Carl Tremarco and Jordan White were in the thick of it from the get go, with White heading over from Tremarco’s cross. Barely a minute later, the left back put in an even better cross, and White stretched to reach it. The striker looked on in anguish as his magnificent header struck the woodwork and was cleared away.
The barrage of County chances continued, Iain Vigurs floated in a brilliant deep free kick to Ross Draper, who had a free header, but somehow glanced it wide. Vigurs found himself standing over another free kick, this time in shooting range. He curled a shot over the wall towards goal, but it was saved by Killie stopper Colin Doyle. It was from the resulting corner that the Staggies broke through.
Vigurs struck yet another impressive set piece, and it was Alex Iacovitti on the end of it. The centre back made no mistake in heading home from just outside the six yard box.
Can’t break through again… plus a familiar story
After the Staggies scored their second equaliser, Kilmarnock put their foot on the pedal and found themselves on the front foot. Killie didn’t create any significant openings, but John Hughes clearly saw it was time for change in order to sway the momentum back in County’s favour. Jordan Tillson made way for Harry Paton, and the Canadian midfielder wasted no time in stamping his mark on the game- sprinting down the touchline past Haunstrup, and cutting it back for Michael Gardyne. Gardyne again failed to add to his tally, somehow skewing it past the post when he should have at least tested the keeper.
It was frustrating for County, and Kyle Lafferty added to their worries (albeit illegally) by smacking the face of Iain Vigurs, and starting a seemingly endless stream of blood from the skippers’ nose. Lafferty was booked, but was again lucky not to receive his marching orders. Vigurs went off, and after an unsuccessful attempt to stop the bleeding was replaced by Stephen Kelly.
The rest of the match was dominated by the home side- they brought on a sub of their own in Greg Kiltie, who should have done better than hitting it straight at Ross Laidlaw when the ball came to him in the penalty area. The Staggies brought on two more subs in the form of Jermaine Hylton and Regan Charles-Cook, but the two wingers didn’t have the impact they did when they came on last week in the derby defeat.
The Staggies were presented with one final opportunity when Harry Paton nicked the ball from Kirk Broadfoot of the halfway line. He played it through to Jordan White, but his touch took him wide. This resulted in a tame shot straight into the grateful arms of Colin Doyle.
The match ended 2-2, and County had a result that kept them out of the relegation zone, for now at least.
In eleven days time, Ross County are back at home to face a St. Mirren side that were pipped to a top six place at the last moment. The Staggies have a point to prove against the Buddies, having failed to beat them so far this season, not helped by bemusing refereeing decisions in the previous two encounters. It’s another cup final (every game is at this stage), and County will hope that they can build on today’s decent draw, and keep the points in Dingwall.