Queen of the South won the game and arguably deserved to do so, but on the whole there was not much between the two teams and there were very few chances created.
Ross County played matched Queens with a 3-5-2 formation, the first time County have set up like that since I can remember. When at first the formation seemed to suit County, it was ironic that the two goals conceded came from mistakes from wing-back, which is a position or role rarely seen by player in the Ross County team.
How the teams lined up and how they matched up
The teams were set up as 3-5-2 v 3-5-2, but each team had their own variation.
County more accurately played 3-4-1-2, with Gardyne playing a ‘free’ role behind the two centre-forwards. Queens by contrast had McGuffie playing deeper than McLaren and Burns, but neither McLaren nor Burns were wholly responsible for getting into attacking positions to support their centre-forwards.
Although both teams played with similar formations, their playing styles were quite different. Ross County tried to progress from building play with short passes from defence, which didn’t always work and they sometimes resorted to wasteful long balls anyway. Queen of the South looked to give the ball to Harris (the left centre-back with a cultured left foot) to chip the ball towards Queens’ target-men Holmes and McMenamin. Queens’ pattern of play was in fact very similar to the last time they visited Dingwall when they drew 1-1.
Both teams relied on their wing-backs to provide width to the match, to greater or less success.
Miller v Carmichael
It was obvious to me at the outset that the individual battles at wing-back position were going to be key to the match, especially with Gary Miller playing right wing-back for County.
[Please leave feedback on the new-but-similar format of the blog, whether you like it or not. It is an alternative to what was done previously as the SFL don’t want me to use photographs of the match.]
Miller started the game very high up the pitch, perhaps as a statement of intent against his direct opponent Carmichael.
The change by County to 3-5-2 potentially suited Miller best out of the whole team, at least in an attacking sense. Typcically played as a right-back in a flat back four, he is quick, aggressive and is always willing to take his man on. With Miller starting higher up the pitch, this presented Jimmy Calderwood the Ross County manager with an option to get behind the Queen of the South defence.
Miller was even willing to attack the far post when the ball was due to come in from the opposite side. Unfortunately for him, Milne never got his delivery in, which was disappointing given the excellent position both were in.
Carmichael v Miller
Even more regrettably for County, Miller soon began to struggle and became less effective, which allowed Carmichael to get forward more. Perhaps Miller struggled with the amount of grass he had to cover from front to back, but his body language suggested a lack of confidence in an unfamiliar role when he had to defend.
What is certain is that he has lapses of concentration and at certain points during a match loses the man he is meant to be marking.
The picture above illustrates Miller getting lost on the edge of the box, with Carmichael on the ball. Boyd, Ross County’s right-sided centre-back, covers him in this instance, but it was a sign of things to come.
County were 1-0 up when Queens got a penalty, which resulted directly from Carmichael’s run into the box with the ball.
Queens’ Willie McLaren intelligently drifted wide to allow Carmichael some space, but it was before then that Miller got caught ‘sleeping’ at right wing-back and allowed Carmichael to ghost past him un-noticed. Boyd, again covering for Miller, desperately took Carmichael down in the box as Carmichael was about to release the ball to an un-marked McMenamin on his left (who would have been marked by Boyd in normal circumstances).
I think that credit should go to Queen of the South for earning the penalty though as much as blame put on Miller, because it was Carmichael’s diagonal run inside the wing-back that was something unexpected and got them back into the match when County appeared to be in the ascendency.
Queen of the South scored their second goal to go 2-1 ahead just before half-time from a goal by their right wing-back Weatherston, who was left un-marked by Fitzpatrick to finish. I admit to ‘switching-off’ myself at this stage of the match in anticipation of the half-time pie.
Other aspects of 3-5-2
In the end, it could be said that Calderwood’s experiment with 3-5-2 failed because his team lost the match. In fact, Ross County failed to create any decent chances inside the box and barely a chance at all during the whole of the second half when they were losing 2-1.
There are some positives to be found though.
Brittain and Lawson worked hard at being in a position to collect a short pass from defence when possible.
Lawson v Queens’ organisation
I am a big fan of Lawson on this site and enjoy his range of passing, but without a quick striker to make a defence-splitting run around the centre-backs, Lawson’s play-making became predictable.
As a result, Lawson tried earlier, killer balls across the pitch to try to stretch the defence. When they did come off the passes were still only received by a team-mate with his back to goal, because the Queens defence was able to sit deep and not allow anyone to run beyond (or else be sweeped by the goalkeeper).
The picture above illustrates how predictable County became in the second half. Reid and Harris as the centre-backs on either side of Lilley were able to come out and intercept the passes aimed towards the County forwards’ feet, because they knew exactly what was coming.
As mentioned earlier in the post, Gardyne played in a free role, but had Queens’ McGuffie opposing him.
McGuffie certainly had a better game than his last appearance in Dingwall, but he still let Gardyne drift off him at the start of the game. Maybe he wasn’t anticipating Gardyne’s ability with the ball, but stuck to him more diligently as the game wore on.
Gardyne rarely got beyond all three of Queens’ central midfielders at any one time.
Three at the back
For the most part, Ross County dealt with the aerial threat of Holmes and McMenamin pretty well, which is a credit to them playing with three at the back. Jason Marr sat in the middle of the three defenders for County and was able to win most second balls after Holmes inevitably won the first ball launched from defence.
With the extra man in defence, Ross County’s goalkeeper was able to roll the ball out to one of the centre-backs, rather than punt the ball down-field for County to invariably lose possession.
I don’t mind seeing County try to play from the back, as long as it gives the team more chance of keeping possession further up the field.
However, a number of supporters at the game began to heckle the team because they were not attacking immediately. I think this had a notable effect on some of the defenders, Flynn particularly, who became more nervous with the ball as the second half progressed.
I don’t necessarily think that Calderwood did the wrong thing in trying out a 3-5-2 formation. If he stuck to the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 set-up used in all of his other matches with Ross County, his team will have lost the midfield from the start and Queen of the South might have dominated thereafter. At least with the 3-4-1-2, the formations matched up and it was then down to the players to show positional discipline and win their individual battles, physically or technically.
However, County really need a striker to have the mobility to break beyond the opposing defence to add some variety to their game. Without a battering ram like Queens’ Derek Holmes to hold the ball up and bring others into play, County in essence have a cluster of middling forwards, who are neither strong enough nor quick enough to impose themselves on defenders at First Division level.
Queen of the South will stay mid-table because they are not varied enough in their attacks going forward, but they are too well-drilled to struggle for form long-term