Dundee won three points today in a competitive, if not entirely thrilling match.
Ross County should have been leading by the time that Dundee got their winning goal (strangely, in the same fashion as Ross County scored in the recent Challenge Cup Final). County missed a number of half-chances and hit the bar, but never really looked convincing. The team was not balanced, players were played out of position, in spite of ‘natural’ alternatives (again), plus a couple of key midfielders were missing.
Dundee do not have much of a squad as a result of them being in administration, but the core of their team is excellent and ought to be able to challenge for the title next season, if those players can be kept and supported. Those key players had enough experience to get the result, with some out of their natural positions yet still putting in good enough performances.
How the teams lined up, against how they matched up
Ross County went with an orthodox 4-4-2. With neither Lawson nor Brittain available, Vigurs tucked in to central midfield. Milne started as a left-midfielder, with Craig on the opposite flank. The rest of the team was as expected.
Dundee followed up their 3-1 victory away to Morton with the same line-up. Harkins played as a second forward, supporting McIntosh who looked quite inexperienced. Irvine sat slightly behind the rest of the midfield.
Early Dundee Possession
The tactical subtleties in the middle of the pitch were the most interesting aspects of the first half, with few chances created until the second half.
Irvine and O’Donnell had the better of the first ten or so minutes of the match. Neither are particularly combative players, but both like to get the ball on the ground and make passes to their team’s wide players. This contributed towards Dundee pinning County back during the start of the game, until Vigurs and Kettlewell found their rhythm in the game.
Paul Lawson’s absence from County’s line-up was notable, especially at the start of the game when County were tried to play their way out of Dundee’s territorial gains.
At one point, Gary Miller found himself where Lawson typically collects the ball from the defence. He was urged to take the ball forwards until he found the appropriate time to release a pass. Instead, he got a metaphorical nosebleed and launched the ball down a channel where no County player was at the time. It should be noted that neither Kettlewell nor Vigurs were quick enough to offer an easy pass for Miller.
Vigurs and Kettlewell did get a hold of the match as the first half wore on. Kettlewell matched up strongly against O’Donnell in front of him and even against Harkins, when the Dundee forward dropped deeper into Kettlewell’s zone.
However, Vigurs was County’s focal point of play throughout the course of the game. With centre-forwards out on the wings offering little other than trying to latch on to loose balls, and Gardyne playing too high up the pitch, Vigurs was left with everything to do.
More often than not, the only free players Vigurs found were the full-backs, who resorted to playing long balls forward. Whether or not this was by design (and I think it was, as I think Ross County are increasingly becoming a classic Jimmy Calderwood ‘play the percentage long balls’ team), it appeared to work to an extent, with County getting into the game more.
The picture above illustrates one of County’s typical moves in the first half, although Fitzpatrick didn’t always shank the ball out of play! For what it is worth, I think Scott Morrison has a much more cultured left foot that would better suit clipped balls forward than Fitzpatrick has.
With Milne and Craig at least putting pressure on the Dundee full-backs, those full-backs were keen to get rid of the ball early and often put the ball out for a throw-in to re-organise themselves. This gave Jimmy Calderwood the territorial gain again, but County weren’t able to do much with it. Benedictus did not look all that comfortable at right-back, so it is disappointing not to see anyone try to run beyond him, with or without the ball.
Getting back to Vigurs, the picture above shows Irvine and O’Donnell marshalling him well, with Dundee sitting quite deep. Gardyne looked for the ball here, but could have done more to link with Vigurs generally.
Just as when Dundee last won 3-0 in Dingwall, it was disappointing to see Gardyne play so close to McKeown and Weston at centre-back. Irvine did a decent job for Dundee as a defensive-minded midfielder, but would have endured a difficult afternoon if Gardyne started much deeper.
This picture shows Barrowman picking the ball up to run and then attempt a through-ball for Gardyne. Gardyne is quick over 5 yards but does not have the physicality to beat Weston. Gardyne would be much more effective as the player collecting the ball in Barrowman’s position, with Barrowman drawing the defence away with a diverting run.
Harkins played the kind of game that Gardyne would have wished for. Harkins was: composed on the ball, able to bring others into play, threatening around the box and able to relieve his defence of pressure by holding on to the ball.
This picture shows Harkins’s position when Dundee were defending. Playing as the attacking midfielder/second forward suits him and he clearly knows his role. It is easy to say that Gardyne could learn something from him, but I think that Gardyne was instructed to play alongside Barrowman today, rather than behind him.
Harkins was particularly effective in linking up with McIntosh, who looked a little wet behind the ears, but McIntosh did the right thing in chasing down County’s goalkeeper McGovern, dispossessing the ‘keeper and scoring.
After Ross County substitutions ~ 84 minutes
After the goal, County made a few changes. Darren Smith needs time to adjust to the game, but looks promising in as much as he wants to make runs behind the defence and might be able to out-pace defenders. In fact, that is exactly the type of player that County need to bring some variety to their play. Otherwise, Calderwood looks content to cover gaps on the wings with centre-forwards who bring little going forward and still fail to score when the chances present themselves.
Despite a number of half-chances created by County after Dundee scored, County didn’t look like equalising. All of their opportunities were snatched at with little composure and as the game was close to finishing, there was little forethought in their attacks. It is alarming to see the change in mentality from perhaps a year ago, when County were always confident of scoring in front of the jail-end at the end of a match.
Dundee have the potential to be a very good team in this Division with the senior players that they have. The team is built around Harkins’s skill and experience, which is no bad thing, especially when the squad is so small. With Harkins, Douglas, the first choice defence and wide players like Riley and Forsyth, they can do well next season.
County, by contrast, have an excess of forwards that cannot even make the bench, which highlights the imbalance in the squad. With a number of players continually and deliberately played out of position, Calderwood isn’t getting the results the club needs to guarantee survival in the First Division.