Ross County effectively won the match in the first twenty minutes against Hamilton, hitting with too sucker-punches by capitalising on weak Hamilton defending on the flanks.
Hamilton had plenty possession in the match, but had no cutting edge. Hamilton found themselves in threatening positions on occasion, but either the final decision made or excellent defending prevented them from scoring.
Ross County continued with their winning eleven in their typical 4-4-1-1 formation.
Hamilton Accies began the match in an unorthodox 5-4-1 formation that very much resembled what Partick Thistle started with in Dingwall recently. In attack, it might be notated as 3-6-1, or 3-4-3, but in defence the shape was 5-4-1.
Routledge and Hendrie were used as wing-backs, who intended to get forward to support Stewart and Martin on the flanks respectively. Alex Neil sat in the centre of defence, between Canning and Mensing. Accies forward Ryan was the only out-and-out forward.
HAMILTON’S QUICK START
Hamilton started the brightest out of the two teams, getting players on the flanks and inviting Stewart to get involved with Ryan up front.
Ryan and Stewart were guilty of shooting needlessly at points during the first half. There were a number of occasions when Hamilton’s left-sided players were un-marked to attack the bye-line, with County right-back Gary Miller tucking in to help his defence.
Hamilton were not shy to test County’s full-backs at other times. In fact, it was clear that Hamilton’s strategy was to try to over-load on the flanks and get players to the bye-line, to put in crosses.
However, the all four of Ross County’s defenders were on top of their form. Full-backs Miller and Morrison particularly put in strong performances and didn’t let Hamilton get behind them in one-on-one duels.
COUNTY TAKE CONTROL
It did not take long for Ross County to find their rhythm in the match. County’s left-midfielder Vigurs was drifting in-field, to give County a numerical advantage in central midfield. That encouraged left-back Scott Morrison to attack the space that Vigurs vacated.
County’s first goal came from a move that Hamilton could only hope to pull off at that point of the match. Lawson collected the ball from midfield and played through one of a few defence-splitting matches in the match.
It is perhaps ironic that Ross County’s goal came from their own full-back Morrison getting behind the Hamilton defence, with Stewart failing to put in a blocking challenge when Morrison crossed.
However, Hamilton right wing-back Routledge was drastically out of position, which had a knock-on effect that contributed towards the goal being scored. With Routledge inside of centre-back Canning’s position, it meant that Canning had to be dragged out of position to challenge the ball.
It was a disappointing goal to lose on Hamilton’s part, because with three centre-backs in the team, Hamilton should have easily picked up McMenamin’s run. While Canning was meeting the ball, Routledge let McMenamin run behind his shoulder to score. Canning deflected the cross but it was not enough for the ball to fall to McMenamin, who was completely un-marked to score.
Ross County scored their second goal shortly after, from a ‘short’ corner that allowed Brittain and Vigurs to combine before crossing the ball in for Boyd to score. It was another poor goal for Hamilton to concede, because County were able to advance from the short corner without challenge, which gave Vigurs a better angle to cross the ball in than directly from a corner kick. Only one defender met Brittain, but that still left a 2v1 situation in County’s favour. Ross County, by contrast, defended with two players coming out to Hamilton’s short corners.
HAMILTON’S LACK OF PENETRATION
With Alex Neil marshalling the defence, Hamilton were sometimes able to play the ball out of defence. Hamilton would have felt obliged to pass the ball out of defence, because their forward Ryan couldn’t win any aerial challenges against the Ross County defence.
However, Hamilton’s defenders were sometimes a little too slow with their passing ideas, which allowed County’s forwards to close them down. On more than one occasion, short passing among the Accies defence would result in a pass back to goal-keeper Hutton, who would punt the ball and lose possession. Hamilton’s central midfielders McAllister and Redmond could have done more to help collect possession in this respect.
It took until about twenty minutes into the match, with Ross County already leading 2-0, for Hamilton to switch the play that their possession craved. Hamilton often didn’t get the ball to the far flank quickly enough to expose County’s defending full-back.
Re-enforcing the points above, this picture illustrates one occasion where Mark Stewart took on a difficult shot that went well wide. He really ought to have supplied either flank with a ball, so that County had to defend facing side-on or facing their own goal, which is a much more difficult art than defending while facing the opposition goal.
SECOND HALF: THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
Not much changed to the pattern of the match in the second half. Hamilton were allowed possession in areas where it didn’t hurt County. When it came to spreading the play across the flanks in Ross County’s territory, then County pressed well and intercepted a number of passes, to hit on the counter-attack.
Teams after 77 minutes
Hamilton changed their formation after an hour, with wide midfielders Stewart and Martin replaced by Kirkpatrick and Anderson. Hamilton subsequently went to a 4-1-3-2 formation, with Neil stepping out of defence to sit at the base of midfield.
Hamilton used the same strategy as they did earlier in the match, despite the change. They continued to get their wide players (now primarily the full-backs, Routledge and Hendrie) forward and as close to the bye-line as possible. When County’s own full-backs were beaten in numbers, Boyd and especially Munro covered excellently.
COUNTY ON THE COUNTER
Ross County took the ball forward quite comfortably, later on in the match. This was largely due to the space in the channels behind Hamilton’s full-backs, who were pushing on to aid Hamilton’s attacks.
Ross County’s starting eleven might not change much from week to week, but their style of play is very adaptable. At points in the match against Hamilton, County played directly, testing Hamilton’s defence with balls into channels. At other times, as is illustrated above, County knew when to keep the ball well, high up the pitch. The ability to control – and change – the tempo of the match is something that Ross County’s midfield does not get enough credit for.
Hamilton tried everything to create chances by getting behind the Ross County defence and flashing the ball across goal. They never succeeded in doing so, despite putting themselves in some promising positions to do so. They almost found that with a through pass to Ryan at the start of the second half, but Michael Fraser read the play well and dealt with it safely outside his penalty box.
In the end, Hamilton looked like they needed a ‘Plan B’; a different approach to County’s goal. They also looked as if they missed the aggression of Dougie Imrie (now at St Mirren) in attack somewhat.
Ross County controlled the match as much as a team can at this level of football. They denied Hamilton any space behind County’s defence and dictated the pattern of the match to suit themselves. Ross County’s run now extends to twenty-four matches unbeaten in the league and they look good value for promotion to the SPL.