Ross County 3 – 1 Greenock Morton 10/08/10

It was a pleasing performance, but only after the first 20 minutes or so County were chasing the game.

The teams were evenly matched for the first quarter of the game, which was down to Morton doing their homework beforehand. I wonder if Adams is getting a reputation for being predictable with his line-ups, because it was obvious that the new Morton manager knew County were going to line-up with a 4-3-1-2. Morton countered this with a 4-1-3-2, which meant that all of County’s midfielders were marked and the only free, unmarked players on the pitch were both sides’ full-backs.

We can see from the picture above how narrow County’s midfield is. Each County midfielder had a player marking him, including Gardyne who was followed by their number 11, Bachirou.

Gardyne played too far up the pitch at the start of the game considering we had two other forwards. The orange elipse indicates how close the three of them were. This would be fine if they could pass pretty triangles among the three of them, but first division football doesn’t work like that. Without space for Gardyne to run on to, as well as top quality service to the feet of the two forwards Di Giacomo and Barrowman, County were not going to create much.

The key for both teams in this instance would have been to get the full-backs on to the wings in the final third of the pitch, but neither side was prepared to do this early on.

The second picture shows one of County’s biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses: the off-side trap. Adams likes County’s defence playing a high line, which controls the space the game is played in, which often works in County’s favour due to the quality midfielders they have. If a player breaks the off-side trap then there is only the goalkeeper to beat.

We saw this tonight with Morton’s goal, which came from Keane (I think) breaking the trap and getting one-on-one with McGovern, who pulled off a brilliant save. Unfortunately some of the County defenders had given up the chase and didn’t track the Morton players going in for the rebound. Given the amount of times the off-side trap has been beaten in the two games I’ve seen this season (Livingston, Morton), I would hope County will be better drilled in following up the ball if the opposition gets through, which is inevitable with the way County play.

For what it’s worth, the West Stand linesman didn’t have the best of games with his off-side calls, but I feel he got it correct for the Morton goal.

As I have often said, I don’t know whether to criticise Adams for being stubborn in his ‘winning’ formula, which doesn’t necessarily work from game to game, or praise him for being able to make the correct decisions to change the course of the game.

I feel that if Adams had not changed something to the formation fairly early, the game could have drifted away from County and Morton might have taken control of the game.

Following the goal though, Adams brought Jimmy Scott in from right-midfield to a central midfield role beside Brittain and took Giaco from a central striker to a right-sided forward/attacking midfielder, similar to what Dene Shields did for County in the second division. In fact, it was a pretty similar 4-2-3-1 regularly used in that season that Adams went for, which worked a treat. The four bands are colour-coded in the picture above.

The change in formation allowed Corcoran to give County some more width, give Gardyne space to run into and more imporantly gave County a second central midfielder to collect the ball and switch the play to either side. Jimmy Scott looks a much better player in the heart of the team than when he plays elsewhere due to his high energy levels and his range of passing.

I’ll leave it to others to discuss the merits of having Giaco wide-right, but he had a decent game. I quite look forward to seeing Smith there if he gets a chance.

County never looked like losing after they equalised (which came from a wicked cross from Corcoran, what a novelty to have a genuine wide left player in the team!), apart from the Morton header from a corner at the start of the second half which narrowly missed the outside of the far post.

What surprised me about Morton was Moore’s reluctance to change things about: it was clear that after County had changed their formation that the momentum had swung in their favour and something should have been done. It wasn’t until County’s second goal that their left-back Kevin McKinley went over the half-way line. I expected a few more bodies getting shoved forward following their double-substitution, but the subs were like-for-like in their roles with the players they replaced.

Special mention for Brittain: he and Gardyne were playing at a different level to the rest of the players on the pitch. His distribution to either flank, often with his first touch, was almost perfect. His work-rate is clearly inspirational to the rest of the team. I like seeing Brittain play wide-right because his crossing in open play is dangerous, but it is obvious that his best position is as one of two central midfielders. Lawson has his work cut out to get back into the team, never mind Kettlewell.

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