Dundee United won a cup tie against Ross County yet again, but struggled for a result against a resilient Ross County side who had enough chances to win the tie in the first 90 minutes.
United lined up in a 4-4-2 formation. This was different to the clear 4-1-3-2 they played earlier in the season against County in Dingwall. The difference was that Buaben was pushed a little higher in midfield, which meant that Jimmy Scott had more room to run into.
County went with a 4-2-3-1, with Scott playing off Barrowman. The midfield was evenly matched, but Scott linked the County midfield with Barrowman up front and occasionally gave County an extra man to pass to between Gomis and Buaben.
It was always going to be a tough night for Goodwillie given the recent charge against him. He has had better games but always looked a threat against County.
United were always looking for the out-ball to Goodwillie, who would spin-off between and behind Boyd and Morrison on the left side of the County defence. He did well in getting into dangerous positions, but was sometimes too quick for his own team-mates. Boyd just about managed to clear a dangerous cross by him shown in the last two pictures here.
He was too sharp for Boyd in this instance, turning him easily to find space for a shot, but McGovern saved comfortably.
Goodwillie’s opposite number, Andrew Barrowman, ran as hard as anyone during the match, but not much fell for him. He had one very good chance to win the match during the regulation 90 minutes.
Just as Goodwillie did for Utd, Barrowman made intelligent runs between centre-back and full-back to get behind the defence and put crosses in. Unfortunately for County, there was never anyone meeting the crosses. The second and third pictures of this sequence show where Wood, a centre-forward who played right-midfield, perhaps should have been to attack the ball from the cross. Why else have a centre-forward play on the wing than to make timely runs into the box and get on to the end of crosses?
Barrowman broke the off-side trap in the second half to get one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but Banks stood up well and made a pretty good save. Having said that, Barrowman might have finished that a couple of years ago without thinking, but the chance sums up County’s lack of cutting edge.
County hit the woodwork on two different occasions, including a 25 yard screamer from Brittain that was tipped on to the bar by Banks.
Apart from that though, Brittain played one of his best games in a County shirt I thought. He covered most of the pitch, tackled hard, sprayed the ball around and wasn’t afraid to shoot. He led by example, which is one of the rare occasions where he has done so this season.
This picture shows that Brittain and Kettlewell weren’t always side by side, which was actually encouraging to see. In a 4-2-3-1 formation, the ‘2’ don’t always need to be square to each other, as I have highlighted in previous posts, otherwise the team with the band of 2 sometimes might as well have only one player doing the same role.
The picture above was the second crucial tackle in the box that Brittain made in the first half of the game.
This is an example of Brittain switching the play on his first touch to Corcoran on the left wing. This is something he was doing regularly in the last couple of seasons but less so in this campaign. Being able to distribute the ball quickly and accurately to a winger is important in allowing the winger to get at the opposing full-back before the rest of the defence can support, so it is wholly encouraging to see Brittain passing the ball like this again.
Brittain was ably partnered by Kettlewell, who is limited on the ball himself but is an excellent combative midfielder.
He did particularly well in assisting to negate Goodwillie’s ability on the ball.
Two things that Kettlewell does good are supporting the winger/full-back in pressing the opposite wide player and protecting the centre-backs from any advanced midfielder looking to pass, dribble or shoot outside the area.
United always looked a threat on the counter attack, with Goodwillie and Russell looking for balls behind the defence to run on to. In addition, United brought on Conroy to play on the left wing against Gary Miller (who was an enforced substitute after Marr’s headknock). Conroy brought width to the team, even if he wanted to cut on to his favoured right foot. Miller couldn’t help in the County attacks as much as he would naturally have liked to, because of the threat from Conroy behind him.
The first half was even, with both sides not making any clear-cut chances. The second half had County in the ascendency without being able to show a killer instinct.
However, County lost their momentum in extra-time and United controlled the tempo for the rest of the match. It felt inevitable that the game was going to go to penalties, which is a lottery that United one on this occasion.