It was a sobering lesson for Ross County as they came crashing back down to earth the game directly after a positive point against St. Johnstone, today getting trounced 3-0 by Hibs in the capital. The organisation of Mackay’s men fell apart the moment the first goal went in, and they simply failed to recover after conceding all three goals in the space of 10 minutes.
Here’s how the two sides lined up:
Exciting start before the crash
The embarrassing scoreline suggests otherwise, but the Staggies started the match reasonably well. Their lineup was chock full of creative players such as Blair Spittal, Ross Callachan, Harry Paton and Regan Charles-Cook, and County settled into the game well despite a few scares. Jordan White headed narrowly over when he perhaps should have hit the target.
Initially, this setup made for exciting viewing, but the cracks started to show as Jordan Tillson struggled to sweep up attacking threats in the midfield all on his own, with Paton and Callachan failing to take their share of defensive responsibility. This blew up in County’s faces 22 minutes in, as Martin Boyle had a speculative at best effort at Ross Laidlaw’s goal, which took a wicked deflective off Tillson and looped over the County stopper.
It was a gut punch, but the Staggies needed to stay composed and defend reasonably well like they had in the opening 20.
They did not.
Barely five minutes later, Josh Doig for some reason had the freedom of the left flank to pick out the head of Kyle Magennis to head home. Magennis was completely and utterly unmarked by both Jordan Tillson and Keith Watson, both of whom made relatively feeble efforts to get to the ball before the scorer. It didn’t even take another five minutes for the Hibees to add to the scoreline with another simple crossed ball into the box. Paul McGinn set up Christian Doidge (who ragdolled Watson all game long) to head home. There were question marks over whether Laidlaw could have done better, but again, it was the poor, poor defending we’re used to seeing from County.
The Staggies were visibly shellshocked, and no matter the potential for creativity, they were struggling to get into the final third right up until the half time whistle.
A very long 45
At half time, Mackay rolled the dice, bringing on Coventry loanee Jack Burroughs and Arsenal loanee Harry Clarke for Harry Paton and Coll Donaldson respectively. Clarke in particular impressed with his aggression and near refusal to make a negative pass, preferring to scan further up the pitch for an attacking ball.
Burroughs showed promise with sparks of good ideas and technique but struggled to get into the game beyond a few shots from distance that sailed narrowly high and wide of the mark.
Beyond these appearances, the second half was incredibly difficult to watch. County’s balance as a team was really poor, the only real threat usually coming in the form of Regan Charles-Cook down the left hand side. Connor Randall struggled to get into the game in an attacking sense down the right, and Blair Spittal simply wasn’t on his A game. It was good to see Charles-Cook play well though, as his first season in Staggie blue was marred by inconsistency. I suspect that he’ll have a larger part to play in County’s season than some think. His defensive contributions continue to be a surprising asset.
The final positive (for a straw clutching County fan) was the debut of David Cancola. He didn’t have much of a chance to show what he’s capable of on the ball, but did the job that, if Jordan Tillson managed in the first half, it might have been a different game altogether.
Apart from these specific players to write home about though, there were barely any positives for the Staggies. They couldn’t grab a consolation as Hibs were happy to play the game at a very low tempo, but had the quality to avoid complacency on their part. As a result, the match seemed to drag on, and Ross County fans were aching for the final whistle. When it did come, it drew the curtain on an incredibly disappointing performance, and the few positives are not nearly enough to feel particularly optimistic for things to come.
In two weeks, the Staggies face the worst team to play coming off the back of a heavy loss. The reigning champions, Rangers. Despite a recent 1-0 loss to Dundee United, there’s almost no way predicting a County win, or even a draw at this point, is realistic, and being bottom of the league on a very heavy negative goal difference afterwards is an excruciatingly real prospect.