Staggies Clinch Top Six to Keep European Dream Alive
On the 27th October Ross County travelled to Dundee sitting bottom of the league having picked up three points in our opening ten games.
Reading the starting team for the Wednesday night game, I personally tweeted, not entirely seriously but embarrassingly nonetheless, that Malky Mackay should be sacked for not playing Blair Spittal.
That wasn’t my finest take as Mackay’s chosen line up went on to batter the Dee 5-0.
The majority of that team went on to play crucial parts in what became one of the greatest resurgence’s that Scottish Football has ever seen. Other than some right-back I can barely even remember who will spend the next 5 games languishing in the horrors of bottom six football.
Fast forward six months and County, accompanied by Aberdeen, took a trip along the A96 for a winner takes all game, for a place in the top half, against Aberdeen.
It was almost poetic that after his goal of the season strike in that autumn game in Dundee – one of the greatest free kicks in the history of football – cult-hero, Joseph Hungbo, would step up to the penalty spot to send us into the top six and keep the European dream alive.
It certainly wasn’t a game for the neutrals as both teams played out the narrow encounter at Pittodrie without creating too many clear cut chances.
A resolute defensive performance from Alex Iacovitti, Jack Baldwin and latterly substitute Keith Watson gave brilliant protection to keeper Ross Laidlaw who did produce when he was rarely called upon.
Aberdeen’s best opportunity came in the first half when Ross McCrorie fired over the crossbar from within 12 yards of goal in a chance you would be hoping even Connor Randall could put away.
Christian Ramirez had a shot at goal saved well by Laidlaw before some heroic defending from Iacovitti ensured Jonny Hayes couldn’t get on to the rebound.
Aside from a audacious volley from Jake Vokins that flew high over the crossbar, County’s second half opportunities can be summed up by a tale of two penalty claims.
With just 15 minutes to go David Cancola played in Regan Charles-Cook who made a darting run towards goal. The leagues’ top scorer danced past Connor Barron who could only stop our player of the season by taking a swipe at his shin, forcing him to ground. Unsurprisingly from his performance throughout the whole game, referee, Greg Aitken, waved away protests.
It was just eight minutes later that the deadlock would be broken. Ross Callachan played a nice pass out wide to substitute Hungbo before being wiped out by Hayes. The ex-Inverness winger then slowly jogged back into his own box just in time for Hungbo to chip the ball up onto his arm.
Should it have been a penalty? Absolutely not. But whether out of realisation of his earlier mistake or just shear incompetence – probably the later – Aitken pointed straight at the spot.
After an agonising wait caused by the whiney complaints of Hayes and a greeting Lewis Ferguson, Hungbo stepped up to calmly stroke the ball straight down the middle sending the 400 travelling staggies into ecstasy.
The scenes of celebration from the players, management and fans at the end of the game showed just how much the result meant to everyone at the club. Mackay was brought in to keep County in the premiership and, despite the worries after the first ten games, has surpassed this goal by some margin.
It will be said that no matter what happens after the split the players cannot be faulted for their efforts throughout the season and everything above sixth would be a bonus. Whilst there being some truth to that, we currently sit in a potential European spot with upcoming home fixtures against Motherwell and Dundee United.
We must not slip up now. Its time to take this momentum forward into the last five fixtures and complete the job that none of us could have imagined would be possible six months ago.