Ross County have once again proven themselves to be as unpredictable as they come. Despite coming off a swathe of poor results, the Staggies showed no reservations as they convincingly beat Dundee United 2-0. To a man, they were brilliant, and there were enough positive signs to show that they could steer clear of the relegation places yet.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
Playing like favourites
Dundee United came into this game a very dangerous side coming off the back of a very emphatic win, but they looked toothless in the opening exchanges. County had no trouble stifling their attacks, and on the other side of things, looked dangerous nearly every time they ventured forward. Jordan White headed over early on which should have been a warning to the home side.
The Tangerines remained lethargic, and the energy of the Staggies pinned them back on many occasions. County began to look like the dominant side, with the likes of Hjelde, Naismith, Vigurs and Kelly playing uncharacteristically far forward. Jordan White’s fantastic hold up play combined with this meant that County could get feet on the ball and men forward very quickly. Micky Mellon’s men were given further warning when Blair Spittal’s whipped cross had to be tipped wide of the post by Deniz Mehmet.
For their dominance, the Staggies got their reward. The lively Michael Gardyne reversed a pass to the overlapping Spittal. The former Dundee United man played it across the box to Jordan White, who thumped an emphatic header into the back of the net. It was a well deserved 1-0 lead, but they weren’t satisfied yet.
County remained on the front foot after scoring, and found themselves with a corner. Blair Spittal remained in the thick of the action as he thundered it in towards Jason Naismith at the front post. Naismith deftly flicked the ball across to Alex Iacovitti, who side-footed it just over the goal line, despite the best efforts of Mehmet to keep it out. Iacovitti wheeled away in celebration, and the Staggies had a cushioned lead.
Street Smart Staggies
Ross County did an absolutely brilliant job of managing the game from the moment they scored the second. For the rest of the first half, Dundee United were largely on the front foot, which had me worried that they would smother County in their own half. To the contrary, the Staggies recognised the importance of getting the ball forward, even with a lead to protect. Even when the Tannadice team had men in space their end product failed to challenge Ross Laidlaw in County’s net. When the half time whistle blew, the away side looked strong, while the home side looked utterly bewildered.
John Hughes’ men came out for the second half and refused to rest on their laurels. Their interplay was only improving, while Dundee United offered little to no threat. Micky Mellon knew something had to change, so just before the 60 minute mark, he threw on Pawlett, Appear and Chalmers. The latter nearly made an instant impact, just barely missing the top left hand corner of the Staggies goal with a curling shot. This showed that the Tangerines could still pose a threat, but for the rest of the match, they were simply pedestrian. Every time they played it forward they were met with Iain Vigurs, Jordan Tillson and Stephen Kelly, Michael Gardyne and Blair Spittal tirelessly breaking up the play in the middle of the park.
To their credit, United did enjoy a spell of possession. They were beginning to play the good football that saw them smash Aberdeen, when John Hughes made a shrewd substitution, bringing on Regan Charles-Cook for the booked Spittal. Hughes has been criticized in recent weeks for making substitutions with all guns blazing, but this one helped County to see out the game. Charles-Cook quite simply took the ball yards up the pitch when he got it, and linked up well with Jason Naismith on the right flank to take the pressure off County.
The Staggies were in cruise control, when they decided to push further. Stephen Kelly saw a rasping shot saved onto the bar by Mehmet. Charles-Cook went diving in to head the rebound, and was desperately unlucky to see it come back off the post. To add injury to insult, he hurt himself in the attempt, but thankfully was able to keep playing.
Jordan White was the next to contribute to this flurry, smashing a volleyed effort that Mehmet had to divert wide smartly. The resulting corner from Kelly was very dangerous but ultimately came to nothing.
When all was said and done, County had three points that put them back in 10th place, leapfrogging Kilmarnock who lost to Motherwell. It’s in the Staggies hands again. Can they capitalize? We’ll have to see…
In 11 days time, County are back on home turf in Dingwall to face basement side Hamilton. This is another game which could dictate who stays up, or faces relegation. Hamilton have just beaten a strong St. Mirren side 2-1, and have the capability to hurt the Staggies. It’s a cup final in all but the literal sense, and Ross County will need to be brilliant to a man once more.