Ross County finished the season with an easy victory against an under-strength Cowdenbeath side. Much like the 1-1 result the last time Cowden were in Dingwall, County indulged in missing a number of opportunities to score. The difference this time was that Cowdenbeath’s best chance of the game only arrived at the end of the match, when County were already in a comfortable position to win the match.
Both teams played fairly straight-forward 4-4-2 formations. Gardyne played a little deeper than Barrowman, so as usual County’s formation could be labelled a 4-4-1-1.
For County, Darren Smith made a rare start on the right wing. Scott Morrison continued at left-back after impressing in recent away matches. For the first time since Derek Adams was in charge, every County player starting played in arguably their natural roles in a 4-4-2 set-up.
Cowdenbeath made four changes to the team that won against Stirling last Saturday, with McKenzie and Ferguson getting a chance together up front.
The underlying reason why I think County were successful in scoring a few goals and creating so many chances was the natural width that the personnel brought them. Scott Morrison was able to get forward and overlap Vigurs (who, of course, tucked in-field a little to allow him to do so). Darren Smith on the right wing counter-balanced this by making himself available for the long-diagonal ball from defence and was quick enough to get the better of Cowdenbeaths’ left-back Adamson (and then briefly Linton).
Time and again, Scott Morrison was able to link up with Vigurs and Brittain to over-lap on the left flank and deliver crosses in to the far post. Brittain did well in switching play to him as early as possible.
Morrison delivered a succession of dangerous crosses in open play, which the Cowdenbeath goalkeeper Ludovic Roy found difficult to deal with (although it has to be said, Roy hasn’t looked a reliable ‘keeper at this level for a number of years).
With early passes out to Morrison, he found himself close enough to goal to shoot or cross. Indeed he scored the opening goal from this range, after Smith flighted in a dangerous cross from wide-right.
Ross County have missed having a quick right-winger as a different option in attack for the last two seasons. Smith has been injured for most of the season, and seemed to be out of favour when available, but he offered more balance to the team than the usual tactic of playing a centre-forward out of position there.
With Smith willing to hug the touch-line at times, this dragged the full-back away from his fellow defenders and towards Smith with the ball. Smith has the pace to beat most full-backs in the Division, so getting beyond the full-back and sending a cross into the box was a regular form of attack. With Vigurs tending to tuck in, the opposing right-back had to keep an eye on him rather than cover for the exposed centre-backs. With space for Barrowman to attack, he had a number of chances to score, but it wasn’t his day.
Cowden were average in possession, with Gardyne and Barrowman making life difficult for their defenders to play out from the back. It was key for them to get their play-maker Makel on the ball and spread the ball about, but passing moves often broke down in their own half with over-hit passes.
McKenzie looks a similar player to County’s Michael Gardyne, but his marker Flynn barely let McKenzie get a kick of the ball. Ferguson didn’t do much better against Boyd and only threatened with shots from outside of the box.
Cowdenbeath’s main tactic was to get the ball early to Byrne on the left-wing, who tried to link up with the forwards. He never put in any dangerous crosses and lacked any support from central midfield as an option to retain possession. Cowdenbeath’s best chances, until the last minutes of the game, came from scrapping to keep the ball outside County’s box and shooting from distance. More often than not, Cowden’s two forwards were isolated from the rest of the team and never looked like scoring.
In the end, the result was never in doubt. County have probably played better, but for the first time in months looked an all-round balanced team that had a variety of options in attack. If County retain and play their starting XI from today, third or fourth place in the league next season is perfectly feasible.
Cowdenbeath now have to face the relegation play-offs. They are a team with character and their first choice team might have enough ability to stay in the First Division. Good luck to them.