Today we have an analysis of Ross County v Falkirk from 5 March 2011, where County won the game by not only scoring a goal, but scoring a second, winning goal. [You will have to make up the images as you go along.]
So on to the formations.
Falkirk played a fairly orthodox 4-4-2, starting with Millar and O’Brien in central midfield and Higginbotham the main source of creativity to the two forwards from the right-side of midfield.
From the team-sheet, I thought County might have played a 4-4-2 with Gardyne at #11 starting on the left-wing.
However it was Richard Brittain who started on the left, with Milne (a centre-forward by trade) on the right and Gardyne partnering Barrowman up front. More about that shortly.
County’s formation would more accurately be labelled a 4-4-1-1, because Gardyne wasn’t playing directly against the centre-backs and looked to link the County midfield with Barrowman up front.
Gardyne v O’Brien
One of the key elements to the match was Gardyne’s ability to run with the ball at the Falkirk defence.
Millar, who played alongside O’Brien in the heart of Falkirk’s midfield, mostly concentrated on what County’s number 8 Kettlewell was doing. This left O’Brien with a lot of responsibility.
- Should O’Brien engage with Lawson (generally regarded as County’s deep-lying playmaker), who was clever enough to sometimes sit back and sometimes go forward?
- Or should O’Brien sit off and deal with Gardyne, who would otherwise have space to run with the ball?
Early in the game, Lawson’s positioning meant that O’Brien came forward to meet him, but this let Gardyne link up with Barrowman.
The Falkirk defence’s priority was to keep it’s shape: as soon a defender came out to meet Gardyne, it invited space for Barrowman to move into.
Milne, who was playing at right-midfield, might have exploited this space more than he did, but diligently kept his position in line with the rest of the midfield.
Gardyne got a lot of joy in running with the ball and drew a foul at the edge of the box, the free-kick of which Brittain scored the first goal from. Conversely, Falkirk found it quite hard to play out of defence, because Gardyne’s confidence was up, he was willing to chase down O’Brien who appears to be the player that keeps possession ticking over.
This illustration shows Gardyne picking the ball up, with O’Brien goal-side of Lawson but not of Gardyne. This, combined with Brittain not being tracked back by Higginbotham, meant that County could retain possession deep in Falkirk’s half of the pitch, which was key to County’s momentum in the game.
Falkirk’s threat (or lack thereof)
Just as when Falkirk played in Dingwall earlier in the year, Falkirk had 2 danger-men: Finnigan and Higginbotham.
Higginbotham started wide-right, but the danger came in the unpredictability of the positions he wanted to take up. He started wide-right, and sometimes stayed wide-right, but was just as willing to go to the left.
Fitzpatrick, a natural centre-mid, was playing once again at left-back for County and Brittain, a right-sided midfielder, was playing in front of him.
Fitzpatrick wanted to tuck in beside the central defence while Brittain didn’t initially cover as well as he might (although it has to be said that Brittain was pumped up for the game and what he lacked in positioning in an unnatural role, he made up for in determination in running back and recovery tackles).
Finnigan played as the target-man for most of the match, but looked more dangerous when he dropped off. He made a brilliant opportunity for himself with around 10 minutes to go from a chipped wall-pass from Higginbotham and was clean through on the keeper, but shot wide of the keeper’s right-hand post.
Other than that one chance, Falkirk didn’t look much like they were going to score and it was County who wasted a handful of chances, until Barrowman was fed through a stretched defence at the closing stages of the game. Ironically it took a mis-hit shot to get the ball on target (hurrah!) and beyond the goal-keeper. Needless to say, Barrowman and three-quarters of the stadium were delighted.
Ross County had all of the momentum in the second half and their substitutions helped by bringing on fresh legs. Falkirk had to make two changes in the first half due to injury, but I thought that Falkirk’s manager might have changed things about some more in the second half, rather than continue with the same formation. Higginbotham drifted from right to left and Finnigan continued to drop off some more. Pedro Moutinho came on but it was a like-for-like substitution and Falkirk struggled to make much of the game.
On the other hand, Ross County should take great confidence from the performance. Gardyne and Barrowman in particular look on form and might cause Dunfermline problems on Tuesday night. They might not get relegated yet!