After Ross County had their first two competitive matches of the 2021-22 season called off due to COVID-19, it was great to see the Staggies back on the pitch at all. Regardless of the 1-0 win over Brora Rangers today, County cannot qualify from their Premier Sports Cup group. However, the game was still important in getting the players up to full fitness ahead of an all action Premiership season.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
Knife needing sharpened
As much promise some of the County players show, it was clear how much the COVID outbreak, and having only one pre-season match was affecting the players. There was very little pressure on the ball, and loose passing was rife among the Staggies ranks. However, they had very few problems in controlling the game, and dominating their hosts throughout the vast majority of the first half.
There’s one man who looked far and away the most likely to make something happen despite the slow nature of play though, and that was Blair Spittal. The new number seven wasted no time in living up to the name of his legendary predecessor, leading by example in the way he tried something creative with every touch of the ball.
Ross County’s first clear cut chance actually came through someone other than Spittal though. Connor Randall got on the end of a deflected cross from the left, but he opted to attempt a sidefooted finish which tamely ended up in the grateful arms of Joe Malin.
Understandably, County were lethargic, but they still created periodic chances, with Malky MacKay’s first signing, Ross Callachan, heading just wide from a Jake Vokins corner.
Despite being on the ascendency, the Staggies could have easily found themselves behind to Highland League opposition just before the half time whistle. Ross Laidlaw started a move out from the back, but Keith Watson was caught on the ball by Jordan MacRae on the penalty spot. Thankfully for the defender, MacRae’s shot was deflected harmlessly into Laidlaw’s arms.
The two sides went in at the break 0-0.
Grinding it out… comfortably
It still wasn’t pretty by any means, but at the start of the second half, County’s quality of passing improved. They continued the game on the front foot as you’d expect, and clever link up play from Coll Donaldson and new striker Dominic Samuel earned the Staggies a corner. Jake Vokins put in a brilliant inswinging cross, and who else but Alex Iacovitti to head home off the post. The left footed centre back seems to have kept his goalscoring knack he discovered toward the tail end of last season.
The rest of County’s performance from the opening goal onwards was uninspiring, but it definitely wasn’t unimpressive. Despite their place in the Highland League, Brora Rangers are no pushover, as evidenced by their recent toppling of Hearts. It was reassuring that the Staggies barely allowed the home side out of their own half.
Going forward though, Iacovitti’s header was more or less all County had to offer. Their final ball was generally very poor, with both wing backs especially guilty of wayward crossing (though Vokins did grab an assist earlier).
Oli Shaw, though quiet throughout the match, managed to fashion the Staggies’ final moment of note in the match, and he really should have scored. After robbing the ball from Nicolson in the 6 yard box, he failed to prod it home past the looming figure of Malin.
As the match seemed to be crawling to a close, Brora had one attempt at a last minute equaliser, with Jordan MacRae unlucky to see his shot flash wide of Laidlaw’s goal with about five minutes to go.
Those five minutes passed, and the curtain shut on Malky MacKay’s first match as Ross County manager- a very narrow win.
The Staggies soon have another chance to get crucial minutes in the tank on Saturday at home against a Montrose side coming off the back of a 2-0 loss to Dundee. With a step up of two divisions from Brora, it will be a good test to see where the County players are in terms of fitness, and another chance to see just what MacKay is trying to implement…