This was a comfortable victory in the end for County, but things could have been different on another day.
Ross County lined up with a 4-4-2 diamond formation, against Stirling Albion’s defensive 4-5-1. From the start, it appeared like Albion would sit in, out-number County in midfield and we might have ended with another goal-less game like last week’s 0-0 at home to Raith Rovers.
Line-ups and first half
County’s formation is shown in the first picture here. This picture also shows Albion’s early negativity; it was obvious that they did not want to concede an early goal and suffer the onslaught that happened last season.
The second picture shows Albion’s staggered 4-5-1, with Aitken looking to support Smith up front when he could. There was often a fair gap between their midfield and attack, which when pushed back into their own half didn’t help Albion keep possession and take the ball forward.
From the first minute, Gardyne was being man-marked by Jerome Heeking. This was obviously a clear instruction from the management. Gardyne has the ability to run a game if given the space to do so, the best example of this being his man of the match display against Albion last season.
Heeking marked fair and stuck to his job diligently, but not spectacularly. Even so, Gardyne was not impressed. Gardyne could well have been sent off in the first 20 minutes when Heeking tracked Gardyne all the way back to County’s 18 yard line and fairly tackled Gardyne. When both players got up off the ground, Gardyne pushed Heeking over with two hands on the chest.
Albion’s tactic of frustrating and negating Gardyne was working. He was a lucky boy to still be on the park at that stage.
County were two goals up by 38 minutes and the score-line didn’t flatter them. The first goal came from Di Giacomo making his trade-mark run into the right channel, holding the ball up for advancing midfielders who exchanged passes well with the forwards. The neat passing turned into scrappy play but Wood got the break of the ball in the box and finished well. The second goal was from a deep Morrison cross from a dead ball.
Albion didn’t get forward too much in the first half. They weren’t shy in getting their full-backs forward to help the wide midfielders, but never committed too many central midfielders to support the striker. Smith was easily marshalled by the County defence. Smith didn’t help himself by always finding himself off-side!
On the rare occasion Albion got numbers in the box, County coped well as this picture shows.
Albion kept trying the cute ball over the top of the County defence, which County largely dealt well with. Albion’s goal came from one of these cute balls, but McCormack was ‘caught sleeping’. Smith found space behind him and lobbed McGovern, who found himself too far out of the goal, not for the first time this season.
Overall though, County were comfortable and I thought they might get a couple of goals in the second half.
County took off Di Giacomo for Richard Brittain, which allowed Gardyne to get further forward in a 4-4-2.
I do not think that Di Giacomo was injured, so the change was made either to get Brittain on to the park (why didn’t he start?), or, which I think might have been the case, it was to get Gardyne closer to Wood and away from Heeking.
Heeking ended up not having to mark anybody and was a bit of a spare part in midfield. Gardyne started higher up and dropped deep off his centre-back (who didn’t want to be dragged out of position) to make space for himself. This was more successful than starting deeper and being tracked by Heeking.
County scored again and it was all going pretty well for them, until Gardyne got himself sent off with a stupid challenge on Heeking (who he still seemed pretty annoyed with).
Even though Gardyne can have no complaints for getting himself sent off, I’ve never seen anything at a live match in Scotland like Heeking’s reaction to the tackle by doing three backward rolls and simulating what looked like a painful fit. He was quick enough to jog to the touch-line and get on with the game when Gardyne left the pitch.
County continued as they were by controlling the match and not looking too threatened. Albion changed formation by taking off their winger and putting on an extra striker, who had a decent volleyed chance from a set-piece, but never took decent control of possession.
Jimmy Scott v Ross Forsyth
The key to County still controlling the game, looking dangerous and creating chances was the battle in Albion’s left-back position. Forsyth was trying to get forward as much as he could to support the attack, but this meant he left a lot of space for Jimmy to exploit. County got a lot of joy from this and I was a little surprised that this wasn’t addressed by Albion’s management. It also helped that Wood targeted Corrigan as the smaller centre-back and combined well with Jimmy.
Both teams deserved what they got from this game. County could have scored more goals, but it has been a while since they have scored 3 in a league so will be pretty happy with that. Albion weren’t adventurous enough until it was too late and even then, they did not have enough quality in midfield to make the most of their numerical advantage. Playing the percentages balls to the striker might get you the odd goal, as it did today, but it won’t win you matches on a consistent basis.