Colour coding in the annotated pictures is, as usual:
Green = defence
Yellow = midfield
Orange = attacking midfield/wingers (in a 4-2-3-1)
Red = centre-forwards
Please click on the pictures for further annotations [but if ‘close’ doesn’t work, click beyond/off the picture to close].
Ross County rallied against a resilient St Mirren team, who deservedly go through to the next round of the cup.
St Mirren were good value for their first goal after quarter of an hour, using Thompson’s physical presence up top to bring his team-mates into play. The big man/small man combination of he and Hasselbaink looked to be a threat.
Following the first goal, St Mirren sat back and invited County on to them. County struggled to find the key pass in the final phase of their attacks.
Thompson was sent off on around 37 minutes, which permanently changed the pattern of the match. While St Mirren were always threatening on the counter attack (at least, until Hasselbaink was substituted on 69 minutes), County dominated territory and possession. Excellent performances in defence from McAusland, Mair and Goodwin (and a good save by Samson from a low Alex Cooper drive) kept County on the wrong side of the score-sheet.
Roses are red;
Violets are blue;
Ross County 4-2-3-1;
St Mirren 4-4-2.
Ross County made six changes to the league side that drew away to Raith Rovers on Saturday.
In essence, there were only four players who started against St Mirren that have regularly started recent league matches. The biggest surprise was the inclusion of goal-keeper Malin, for the first time in a competitive match in years.
St Mirren lined up in a familiar 4-4-2/4-1-3-2 set-up. Thompson led the line, with Hasselbaink looking to beat the off-side trap. Goodwin held the attacking-looking midfield, with Teale and Carey flanking play-maker McGowan.
It is easy to come to the conclusion that Ross County had the tactical advantage over St Mirren, because they appeared to be, on the face of it, a more complex set-up.
However, that wasn’t the case. Formations and tactics don’t win games; it is the players employed within that make the difference. Tactics are meant to bring out the best of the personnel used. Until the sending off, at the very least, St Mirren had the more fluent system that got the most out of their players.
In truth, St Mirren’s 4-4-2 wasn’t exactly a flat system, so County’s Gardyne didn’t find space between the lines of midfield and defence. Goodwin and Mair marked Gardyne well, to the extent that Gardyne had to drift to the right flank often to find space around the defending left-back. Therefore, one of the main advantages of playing Gardyne off a main striker was negated.
Otherwise, a common use for a 4-2-3-1 is the relative fluidity of the positioning among the trio behind the striker. In County’s case, Corcoran was exclusively on the left; Craig almost exclusively on the right (sometimes tucking in closer to the striker to get involved more); and Morrow spearheaded the attack.
Corcoran probably played best out of the four players, attacking Barron at every opportunity. Craig typically didn’t pose much of a threat on the right (having such a large squad for a First Division club, to have no natural right winger is of concern). It took until the second half for Morrow to win a header against McAusland. The lack of fluidity was further highlighted by the majority of the forward players not winning their individual duels.
FIRST HALF ST MIRREN DOMINANCE
St Mirren, on the other hand, showed quite a bit more craft going forward. Until the sending off, the team had balance, given in large to the Thompson/Hasselbaink partnership up front, but also by the off-the-ball running of the midfield.
One reason why St Mirren looked the better team was because Teale found space behind County’s Duncan and Quinn, by cutting in off the left flank. He was able to do so because Hasselbaink occasionally drifted out to the left, making space for Teale to run in to. On the other flank, Carey tested Morrison by combining well with McGowan.
There were a number of times when St Mirren were able to advance, with midfielders running with the ball at their feet, looking for Hasselbaink to break beyond the County defence. They were able to do this so often, because Thompson was the focal point in attack.
Whereas County’s centre-forward Morrow got hardly any joy out of competing with Mair and McAusland, Thompson won a number of key aerial duels. There were times where he didn’t get anywhere near the ball at all, but with Thompson knocking down the majority of long balls, it allowed the St Mirren midfield to collect the ball, facing the County goal, in the attacking half of the pitch.
The first St Mirren goal was perfectly executed, and it was indicative of the approach that they took to the game. Right-back Barron played a long diagonal ball to Thompson, who cleverly drifted to the opposite side of the pitch to win the knock-down. The ball was cushioned down for Gary Teale, who hit a first-time shot that easily beat Malin into the corner of net. The goal was made by two things that made St Mirren dangerous on the night: the long ball to Thompson and Teale’s movement off the flank.
One last picture in this section illustrates St Mirren at their best in the match. The fluid movement of the team meant that County’s back four were dragged out of position. The two centre-forwards were on the flanks, which would have caused some anxiety for the County defenders. Flynn felt he had to approach McGowan on the ball, who consistently found space ‘between the lines’ during the match. That had a knock-on effect, meaning Morrison had to tuck in to cover, leaving Thompson on the near side un-marked
Simply put, you don’t see movement of that quality in the SFL.
LATER ROSS COUNTY PRESSURE
After the first goal, St Mirren sat with a more deep defensive line, looking to make the most of Hasselbaink’s pace to beat the off-side trap.
Ross County found more possession of the ball, and tried to play the ball out of defence when they could. They missed Fraser in goals and Lawson in midfield in this regard. Rocco Quinn occasionally attempted to collect possession from the defence, but would over-hit his long range passes. Malin wasn’t happy to pass short for defenders to collect, which was understandable because it was his first match in a long time. The lack of composure at times in the transition between defence and midfield didn’t help County’s cause in finding an equalising goal.
In the second half, County took the game to St Mirren as much as they could. St Mirren played with one man less from 37 minutes, in a 4-4-1 formation that relied on Hasselbaink’s pace being exploited from McGowans through balls.
St Mirren did score again, finding space behind County’s advancing full-backs to counter and create a chance for Hasselbaink to finish. Sam Morrow did score a goal for County almost immediately in reply, which set up the last half hour or so quite interestingly.
However, St Mirren sat deep from that point and defended doggedly to prevent County from scoring again. St Mirren didn’t help themselves by taking Hasselbaink off, because his replacement Mooy didn’t have the same threat up front. That meant that County’s centre-backs had little pressure and could play out of defence, letting the full-backs advance.
The make-shift nature of the County team showed at times, with Duncan not having the same assured touch on the ball as Lawson, Brittain and Vigurs normally show. This picture illustrates a typical scenario where Gary Miller was double-marked on the right flank, so passed into space in the middle of the park. Duncan immediately returned the ball over Miller’s head, towards Craig in the corner, but mis-placed the pass and momentum was lost.
This very last picture shows Gardyne finding space for himself ‘between the lines’, but County’s movement didn’t compare to St Mirren’s. Gardyne had advanced ten yards with the ball, but no obvious option to pass to materialised. Craig hinted at running inside, but it never happened, which is a shame in one respect because that is what you would want from a centre-forward starting on the flank.
Ross County fielded what amounted to a reserve side, but that ought not to have been a reflection upon St Mirren who had an excellent first half. Although one might say that County responded well in the second half, with constant pressure towards the St Mirren goal, this was aided by Thompson’s dismissal at the end of the first half.
St Mirren’s attacking movement was a hint of what Ross County will have to compete against – and perhaps look to emulate – if County wish to join and remain competitive in the SPL.