Ross County 0 – 0 Dunfermline Athletic 22/02/2011


This was an interesting match on various counts:

  1. It was Jimmy Calderwood’s first game in charge after McStay was sacked.
  2. Could County either look like scoring or getting a win, to better their dismal home form this season?
  3. How would Dunfermline look without Willie Gibson, who starred in the 3-2 victory for Dunfermline earlier in the season, after he was sold to Crawley Town.

Dunfermline showed their quality in phases during the match, helped by their formation allowing an extra-man in midfield, but they never dominated to the extent that they looked certain to win the match. The lack of a dangerous cross was the main concern for Dunfermline and any goal threat came from set-pieces, where they were guaranteed to get the ball into the box.

County were much improved from recent efforts under Willie McStay, but still struggled to make any clear-cut chances. However, it was encouraging on their part to compete so well in the match, despite conceding midfield advantage.


County played a 4-4-1-1, with Gardyne slightly behind Barrowman (although he played quite high up at times and a 4-4-2 notation wouldn’t be inaccurate). Dunfermline started with a 4-3-3, which largely worked to their advantage during the first half.

The 4-3-3 was advantageous tonight for a couple of reasons:

  • Three central midfielders against two in a 4-4-2
  • Three forwards spread out meant the 4-4-2’s full-backs weren’t spare and had to hurry in possession


Gary Mason was Dunfermline’s defensive midfielder and effectively the spare man in central midfield.  County’s Kettlewell and Fitzpatrick were matched against Thomson and Hardie, so Mason sat behind and was largely influential in the first half.

Mason was influential because he had time to read the game and dictate passing moves in triangles with team-mates around the County midfield.


One way County could have countered this would be to have Gardyne sit deeper than normal, so that Mason had to think more carefully about his own positioning.

However, Gardyne played quite close to the centre-forward Barrowman, to try to prevent Barrowman from being isolated.  It is a difficult balance to strike and Gardyne didn’t always get that right tonight.

The two pictures above show Gardyne starting in an excellent position for a counter-attack, between Mason and the centre-backs, so that he can collect the ball and run at the defenders (one of his unique skills in the team).

However, he gets too close to the centre-backs by the time the ball is released to him and his small size makes it difficult for him to compete direct challenges with the centre-backs.


One interesting trend in the first half was how Vigurs was willing to play quite high up and in-field.  He found a lot of space for himself and it is unfortunate, from a Ross County perspective, that he could not do more with the space afforded to him.

While Vigurs was tucked in quite a lot, this gave Morrison space to get forward into.


The two pictures above show instances in the first half when sponsors’ man of the match Morrison got forward to the touch-line to put crosses into the box.

This is something that County lacked from full-back in the short-lived McStay era and it will be encouraging for the team in fixtures ahead that they can rely on their best attacking full-backs to get forward.

Dunfermline pressure

However, County’s full-backs did not always get it their own way.

This picture shows how little time County’s defenders had on the ball, because Dunfermline played with three forwards and pressed from the front.  It didn’t help County’s defenders that their central midfielders did not seek to collect the ball from them.

Fitzpatrick was guilty here of not going to his right (and towards the bottom of the picture by maybe 5 yards) to open up a simple pass for Boyd here.  Neither Fitzpatrick nor Kettlewell were particularly comfortable in possession of the ball tonight, which put pressure on the defence to clear long to the forwards.  It is not surprising that the two central midfielders struggled to play their way out of trouble when they are both naturally defensive-minded players and were up against a combination of three Dunfermline centre-mids. 

Perhaps a Lawson (playmaker)-Kettlewell (destructor) combination will work well in the future, as it did for most of last season.

Playing too deep

Although County had a man less in the middle of the park due to their formation, they could have negated this disadvantage to an extent by controlling the space used on the park.  A more aggressive off-side trap would have achieved this against Dunfermline, who didn’t appear to possess any threatening pace up front to exploit a high line.

This picture shows the space that Mason had in front of him.  If the County line of defence had been higher up, this space would have been squeezed and County’s own creative players would have been closer to the forwards.

There were times when County sat too deep and invited crosses to come in from deep.  Dunfermline never really threatened with their crossing from open play and only looked dangerous in the air at set-pieces.  This was mainly down to the fact that Graham wanted to drift in-field to influence the game, when he ought to have been supplying crosses from the touch-line for Kirk and Clark to get on to.

The picture above shows Graham picking the ball up to shoot out-side the box.  This is generally what he wanted to do in the match, but space was quite often at a premium.

This picture shows one of the rare occasions that Graham got to the line, which stretched the County defence almost to breaking point.

Other second half observations

Jim McIntyre was winning the tactical battle against Jimmy Calderwood by using a 4-3-3.  This might not have been pre-meditated though and more of a fluke, because he took off Thomson to put Buchanan up front with Kirk with plenty time to go.  This meant that McIntyre dismissed the extra man in midfield to get someone closer to Kirk up front. It seemed a bizarre substitution to make, because County posed no threat through central midfield and had to progress down the flanks.

One could argue that Kirk was becoming increasingly isolated up front at that point, because Graham and Clark had to track back to cover County’s increasingly advancing full-backs, but perhaps a more successful tactic might have been to keep the two wide forwards high up the pitch to call Calderwood’s bluff.

The plan back-fired, because Buchanan hardly got a touch of the ball for the duration of the game and County were able to dominate possession in and play through midfield thereafter.   The picture above shows how much space was in midfield after Thomson was taken off.


The game ebbed and flowed after that and although Dunfermline had one clear-cut chance missed by Kirk, it seemed unlikely that we were going to get a goal tonight.  County attacked well towards the end of the match without delivering a quality final ball for the forwards to finish off.

Dunfermline might have felt they could have won the match and had tactical superiority for most of the evening, but didn’t do enough with the resources available to them.  The team genuinely looked like they were missing Gibson at right-wing to provide dangerous crosses from the touch-line and to torment Morrison at left-back.

County still do not look like scoring any time soon, but with both attacking full-backs providing width and Calderwood willing to give starts to Gardyne and Vigurs, there should be enough creativity to unlock most defences.  Maybe Lawson in place of Fitzpatrick is the missing piece in the puzzle.


Filed under Uncategorized

9 Responses to Ross County 0 – 0 Dunfermline Athletic 22/02/2011

  1. stagga

    Dont know how you can say that the side was much improved from that under mcstay as all the games I seen the side dominated for the vast majority of every game CREATING clear cut chances. The only reason that was converted into wins was some horrid finishing from the strikers.

    That being said Stirling was a bad display on all accounts.

    From your analysis on the game , I cant really argue with some of your points but I felt that they looked as least likely to score as I have ever seen all season.

    Orange goggles perhaps?

    • John Maxwell

      First of all, thank you for the comments. I appreciate the feedback.

      For what it’s worth, I’m not buying into the idea that everything will be ok just because Calderwood has taken over. The proof will be in the pudding.

      These are all of the games that I saw in the McStay era:

      1. 2-2 with Greenock Morton, Morton should have killed the game in the first half and County were lucky to get a late equaliser (they didn’t look like scoring one, let alone two).
      2. 0-1 Raith Rovers. Craig and Barrowman didn’t get any service, County didn’t look like scoring.
      3. Losing on pens to Dundee Utd. County did play well that night, the best I had seen them play since beating St Mirren under Derek Adams.
      4. 1-1 Cowdenbeath. Again, lots of chances, but County didn’t have to play particularly well to dominate that game as Cowdenbeath were poor. When County’s wingers tired, they ran out of ideas.
      5. 0-0 Stirling. Awful game.

      I do think that last night was an improvement on all of those performances but for the Dundee Utd game. Curiously, the players never seem to play too badly against SPL opposition.

      Chances were at a premium for County last night, but at least Gardyne, Vigurs and Barrowman were linking up better than what they have been doing in recent games. Having two attacking full-backs again brings balance to the team going forward. I thought both full-backs defended well too.

      A higher defensive line, a more balanced central midfield (creator + destroyer rather than two of similar style) and some confidence to be aggressive in the box and I think County can save the season comfortably.

      • stagga

        Games I seen that you did not mention:

        2-0 defeat to Dundee.Made dundee look very average , passed them off the park without looking too threatening. Dundee couldn’t string 2 passes together up until a very dodgey penalty kick decision. Even after that still looked like they could win it, then of course the horrid injury which turned the game into a scrap.

        2-1 defeat to Morton county should have been 3 or 4 up at least by the time morton equalised through a fluke strike. Played very well on all accounts , created lots of chances , great to watch. Lost momentum when they equalised but still created clear chances… wood missing a tap in from 3 yards was quite comical to say the least

        1-1 with QoS.Very much bossed the game despite going 1 goal down, had QoS on the back-foot until the lights mysteriously went off. Again lots of clear chances and good passing play.

        Every draw I seen should have been a win and every defeat should have got at least a point.

        -Mentioning full backs , Morrison needed dropped in order to give him a boot in the arse to up his game as he had been pretty much useless for the last 4/5 months and Calderwood will reap the benefits of McStays plan.
        Marr was MOTM in nearly all of the games he took part in yet people got on his back as he had a shaky last 2 games. To me Miller should be playing 1 place forward as he was getting tore apart every game up until the arrival of Marr.

        -Kettlewell was revived under McStay. I see a totally new player now and is very much key in winning the midfield battle every week. Milne looks by far the most deadly stiker in out squad now , again McStays work.

        Calderwood is walking into a near enough injury free squad while McStay has a tally of 7 in the crop list. He inherits a deeper squad with revived players.

        People get on McStays back for what he done but since he took over when you look at the circumstances – performances (results aside) – injurys etc hes done a pretty good job.

        So if Calderwood loses against Partick and fails to get 3 points against Stirling, Falkirk and Dunfermline with a full strength squad (which McStay never had) surely he must get sacked !? no? Personally I don’t want to see the reputation of my team tarnished in the media once more but lets face it, it would be double standards if he’s not.

        • John Maxwell

          Some valid points there, especially about Miller, Kettlewell and Milne.

          Miller played the last five minutes of the Partick Thistle game in front of Marr, maybe that’s the way forward, but it squeezes Brittain out of the team.

  2. Hey John

    I have been directed to your blog by (John) to show me your good use of photographs to explain systems and formations. Cheers for the food for thought!

    Good blog! I have subscribed so I can follow you.


    • John Maxwell

      Thanks for your kind words.

      I was not aware of your blog but I will keep a keen eye on it. I love the fact that there are similar lower league blogs out there.

      How do you do your formation diagrams? I use’s formation-drawing app. I like the idiosyncratic style of the way your pitches are drawn.

      • I looked at, but decided to try my own way.

        I use a programme called sketchbookexpress for the mac. I used this to create the template for the pitch. I then add the “dots” onto the template, then using Adobe Illustrator I insert the names. I tried using Photoshop and make something similar to Zonal Marking. But I dont have the skills. I need to talk to my graphic designer uncle.

        I thought the same thing about lower league blogs. Nice to see someone else trying to make some sense out of lower league football!

        I dont know much about Ross County. What is your average attendance? Recent history?

        • John Maxwell

          Yeah, graphic design isn’t a strength of mine, as you might be able to tell!

          Even your work is beyond my skill and patience, is a relief in that respect. It allows me to concentrate on the photos and try to put a post up on the day of the match.

          Ross County were admitted to the Scottish Football League around ’94 and have been in the First Division (the second tier) in recent seasons. County have made a name for themselves by reaching the Scottish Cup Final last season, beating some notable teams on the way. The catchment area for the club is considerably large, but attendances average around 2200-2300 in a 6000-6500ish capacity stadium.

  3. Pingback: Ross County 0 – 1 Dunfermline Athletic 29/03/11 «

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *