This isn’t the final game- it’s only the second last match of County’s season, but in many ways it all comes down to this.
If the Staggies beat the Accies on Wednesday night, and St. Mirren do them a favour by seeing off Kilmarnock, then the Dingwall side will play Premiership football next season.
There are a number of other scenarios, including one that sees the bottom three level on 33 points going into the final day, but it’s crucial that Ross County only have eyes on the victory that would see them within touching distance of safety.
Opposition Focus: Hamilton
Hamilton have only one win in their last five matches, but that win came in their latest match against a tough team in St. Mirren. In this game they were lauded for the way they grew in confidence as the game went on and stood up to the threat that the Buddies possess, outscoring them by two goals to one.
The Accies have deployed a five at the back formation throughout the season. It’s far from perfect (after all, they’re bottom of the table) but the Staggies always seem to struggle to break them down in this shape. This has caused County to commit men forward recklessly early, and has seen them concede goals on the break. Hamilton will recognise this habit and look to exploit it once more when the two sides meet for arguably their most important encounter to date. Despite their basement position their attackers such as Bruce Anderson and David Moyo have the capability to punish complacent play.
Someone that will make Hamilton even more difficult to penetrate is Hakeem Odoffin in the heart of midfield. A ridiculous stat is that Odoffin has the most interceptions among all under-23 players in the entirety of Europe, with a mind blowing 87. Any slackness in possession would have already been exploited immediately, given how little space Hamilton allow, but Odoffin takes this to the next level week in week out.
Brian Rice’s men are, naturally, ready and willing to fight to the end to stay up, as they have been in nearly every season they’ve spent in the Premiership. Every single year, every single fan poses the question: “they can’t do it again, can they?” For the Staggies, here’s hoping not.
Possible Hamilton lineup:
Hamilton – Martin – Easton
Callachan – Mimnaugh
Moyo – Anderson
Ross County Focus
Ross County have failed to string together two consecutive wins since the very beginning of the season.
If they can’t build on the huge win against Dundee United, then they’ll be dragged right back into trouble. It’s in the Staggies’ hands, and it’ll be a test of character to see if they capitulate like they have so much in recent times, or push on, which they’re fully capable of doing.
John Hughes decided to deploy a simple 4-3-3 against Dundee United. Michael Gardyne and Blair Spittal gave them the width they’d been crying out for during the 4-4-2 diamond experiment, and the three midfielders (Tillson, Vigurs and Kelly) complemented each other very well. It’s always difficult to predict what ‘Yogi’ will go for in terms of a lineup, but this late in the season, you’d expect him to go with what worked most recently, slightly tailored to counter what Hamilton bring to the table.
In order to get the win, the most important thing the Staggies must focus on is getting a clean sheet. The way they limited Dundee United to one half chance in the whole game last time out was very impressive, and if they can keep Hamilton out, then I have full faith in their ability to get through the Accies’ sometimes leaky back line at least once. It will be a lot more difficult in practise, of course, County have this season been the poster boys of goals conceded (64)- the most in the league.
After the win I think the same back line will be played- they all put in very smart performances, and helped by the midfield’s defensive shift got the job done. John Hughes might well go with the same team altogether, but a few changes are to be expected with the experienced manager.
Possible Ross County lineup:
Naismith – Donaldson – Iacovitti – Hjelde
Spittal – Vigurs – Tillson
Danger Man: Ross Callachan
Nobody in the Hamilton squad deserves to be highlighted more than Callachan.
The 27 year old has scored nine goals, five more than 2nd place in the Hamilton scoring charts. To be consistently the Accies’ biggest threat from this deep position highlights him as the player most likely to ruin County’s night. The Staggies can’t bank on the former Raith Rovers man being on bad form either, as he scored in the last game he played- side footing a composed finish past Jack Alnwick in the St. Mirren goal.
If County can find a way to stem the threats of Callachan (and they’ll need to, he’s everywhere on the pitch) then that’ll go a very long way to securing the three points.
County One to Watch: Blair Spittal
Honourable mention goes to Jordan White, but Spittal is the one to watch this week. Against Dundee United, his movement across the final third was second to none, and he even set up the first goal.
Apart from his attacking contribution, something Spittal should get more credit for is his tracking back. It doesn’t matter what position he’s playing in, he’ll never shirk his defensive duties, so along with posing a threat, he also gives the Staggies extra stability.
Spittal may be deployed in the heart of midfield or on the wing, and this type of unpredictability makes him crucial for County in this season defining match.
All the split matches were branded “cup finals” by Staggies boss John Hughes. He was right, and the match tomorrow night is the cup final of all cup finals. If County win, then they could be home free. If not… things get even more worrying than they already are.