Colour coding in the annotated pictures is, as usual:
Green = defence
Yellow = midfield
Orange = attacking midfield/wingers (e.g. Gardyne in a 4-4-1-1)
Red = centre-forwards
Ross County extended their lead at the top of the table to six points, against a combative Queen of the South side that looked short of creativity to take the game to County.
While not being the most pleasing of performances on the eye, Ross County controlled the match for the majority and could have been winning by two or three goals at half-time. Their midfield was more dynamic than Queens’ and they made better use of their full-backs. Queens got back into the match from an excellent McGuffie volley, but the goal was a result of a scrappy battle in the box that Parkin won. Parkin’s influence was largely negated during the match and County continued to dominate, eventually getting the winner.
The teams lining up and matching up. The second picture shows the early substitution.
4-4-2 v 4-4-2
While it could be said that Ross County play a 4-4-1-1, rather than a 4-4-2, because Michael Gardyne is not regarded as an outright striker, both teams deployed similar set-ups.
This site wondered if Queens were going to line up with a 5-3-2 because of the number of natural defenders or defensive-minded players in the line-up and no Dan Carmichael. However, Alan Reid started at right-midfield.
Centre-back Potter had to go off shortly after the start of the game. Queens kept the same shape, but Carmichael came on to go to right-midfield and Reid dropped to left-back.
Ross County started with the same team as against Dundee and Ayr recently.
As this site stated in the 2-0 result between the teams in August 2011:
The two teams were deployed in 4-4-2 formations, which generally meant a couple of things:
- Neither side had a ‘spare’ man in midfield in a nominal sense
- Both sets of full-backs were typically the un-marked players in possession, so had the potential to have important roles in the match.
The same could be said of this match too. In the modern game, full-backs have an important role to a an attacking team. Alan Reid was probably Queens’ most natural full-back, but when he reverted to left-back he was out of position. Neither he nor Craig Reid managed to overlap to any great extent.
One of the few occasions that either full-back got to the bye-line was comfortably thwarted by midfielder Iain Vigurs, who covered well as he typically does.
In contrast, Ross County always try to get their full-backs forward as early as they can at home, to help stretch the midfield and to create 2 v 1 situations when they can.
This picture illustrates how early County were looking to get Morrison involved in attacks on the left flank. As usual, Vigurs tucks in a little, leaving space for Morrison to attack in to. Sponsors’ man of the match Paul Lawson over-hits the pass in this instance, but the idea was correct.
This second example was in the second half, with County pushing for a winner. Brittain and Miller must have played close to or over 100 matches together and Brittain knows when to expect the over-lap.
A point made in the quote further up in the article was that there was no free player in midfield. McKenna and Johnston were up directly against Lawson and Kettlewell. Left-midfielder McLaughlin tucked in for Queens, as a right-footed player, but this was countered by Brittain and Vigurs also coming infield for Ross County.
The result was that the game became very stuffy to watch at times, with Ross County’s pressing making sure that Queens couldn’t play through midfield much and vice versa.
The lack of time in midfield is illustrated perfectly by Lawson chasing down Johnston, who is so often Queens’ metronome. Any time that County lost the ball in midfield in the first half, they were instantly on top of the Queens players who found it difficult to get the forwards involved.
Iain Vigurs had a curious match, once again. He played a few slack passes, while providing the odd moment of inspiration, such as dummying a pass from the bye-line for Gardyne to latch on to, with only a superb diving block from Craig Reid preventing a goal.
Vigurs took an excellent position in the illustration above, but shanked a ball beyond McMenamin at the far post. Only moments later, he collected a long ball from goal-keeper Fraser and shot first-time beyond Queens ‘keeper Robinson to score. That sums up Vigurs’s recent performances. He is a valuable player and probably the most talented in the squad. If Ross County are to play in the SPL next season, they need him on form to compete in midfield.
While Queen of the South finding it difficult to bring their forwards into play through passing on the floor, they had a little more joy in the air. Target man Parkin won the majority of aerial challenges, providing a different threat for Queens. He has very well since signing in January.
While Parkin won a lot of the balls in the air, County were aware to win the ‘second’ balls i.e. his knock-downs for team-mates. Queens looked at their best when Parkin dropped deep, to nod on for Clark or Carmichael.
Parkin was substituted after an hour for Brighton, before he was sent off. He kept finding himself in tussles with Grant Munro and gave a number of fouls away.
This site suggested on Twitter that, if Dan Carmichael could be shown on to his right foot while playing on the right wing, he might be kept quiet in the match.
It sometimes isn’t that simple.
Carmichael was later moved to play up front with fellow substitute Brighton, but before then he got to the bye-line a couple of times. Once, he skinned Munro before narrowly missing Scott McLaughlin with his cross.
The second time brought on the equalising goal for Queens, with Parkin managing to set up McGuffie for a left-foot volley.
LAST TWENTY MINUTES
Ross County searched for the winning goal, dominating in midfield, but they couldn’t find the penetration behind the Queens defence that they were looking for.
It took a rare defensive mistake for County to find the equaliser. Chris Higgins followed Gardyne too far up the pitch, which allowed Gardyne to turn and run into the space behind after McMenamin’s cute lay-off. Until then, the Queens back four kept their shape quite well. The break in the defensive line looked out of character (and more like something Arsenal defender Thomas Varmaelen does on occasion).
At the point of the equalising goal, County were going to make a double-substitution to look to stretch the Queens defence. The change was made regardless. Wide midfielders Brittain and Vigurs were replaced by Craig and Corcoran. The solid-looking 4-4-1-1 was replaced by an attacking-minded 4-2-3-1, with Kettlewell and Lawson deliberately sitting deep to let Gardyne exploit the space in front of the Queens defence.
That was quite bold in a sense, because County now had a goal advantage to defend, but it turned out that by still attacking Queen of the South incessantly, they managed to keep Queens away from the County goal.
This picture is an illustration of Lawson preventing a Queens counter-attack and setting up an early counter of his own. While Lawson looked for the space beyond McMenamin, it should be noted how much space Gardyne found in front of the defence. This was a common theme during the last twenty minutes, as Queen of the South committed their midfielders further forward. Steven Craig was another who enjoyed the extra space on the pitch, often getting behind Alan Reid and nearly creating another goal.
In the end, County looked comfortable winners, but the score-line didn’t reflect that. Queen of the South made the result difficult for them, with the threat of Carmichael on the break and Parkin’s aerial presence always a potential danger. However, there was not enough creativity from the centre of the park, nor dynamism from their full-backs to support the forwards.
Ross County are now twenty two matches in the league unbeaten. A home fixture against in-form Partick Thistle awaits on Tuesday night.