Well done to Thistle today. It is a big three points for them at this stage of the season and might be a platform to build their campaign from.
However, it was a poor game by two very poor sides. Partick Thistle sat back with little ambition, soaked up the pressure, got the first goal from a goalkeeping error, soaked up more pressure and got the second goal on the counter-attack.
Ross County started out in a 4-1-4-1. It was unexpected given Thistle’s form. I guess that Adams thought that Thistle would be playing a back three and wanted Gardyne and Corcoran as ‘inverted’ wingers running at Thistle’s back three. Adams might not have thought how far back the opposing full-backs would be.
The picture above showed what County’s formation might have been, with Corcoran and Gardyne further forward, but they never supported Di Giacomo enough in the early moments.
County never got any real width in the first phase of the match. Thistle sat back and protected their goalkeeper who barely had a save to make all game. When Thistle got crosses into the box, they did look dangerous, but didn’t do this often enough and appeared content with frustrating County.
Thistle’s threat from crosses was largely due to their wing-backs having space to run in to. Gardyne tended to tuck in from the left wing, so left Paton on his own. Corcoran did a better job at staying wide and tracking back, but Boyle played the left-wing back role superbly all day and got forward when he needed to.
This picture was taken during a move when Thistle couldn’t get the ball to the other side of the pitch. Paton is a decent at crossing the ball and might have done more damage to County, but Thistle showed little ambition in getting the ball into dangerous areas on the flanks and were happy enough with trying to pass the ball in the middle of the park. This particular move was quickly broken down with over-elaboration in midfield.
Thistle’s first goal came from McGovern’s error in trying to catch a cross that was beyond him from a corner. Other than that, Thistle never made the most of their wing-backs and the space afforded to them; they were happy to sit back and invite County on to them, even before the goal. Following the goal, they showed little ambition up until half-time.
Di Giacomo was the lone striker in the first half. He didn’t have much to work with against three central defenders. He did his best to chase balls played into channels, but when he was out there, County didn’t have any other forwards in the box.
This is one of many examples during the first half when Thistle were happy to sit deep behind the ball. County’s midfield and forward line didn’t make enough movement off the ball to trouble Thistle’s back-line, but it wasn’t easy for them against five defenders and Jackie McNamara sitting just in front of them as well.
I thought Paul Lawson did not have a particularly effective game. With Thistle only having three midfielders, and one of them sitting deep, Lawson often had plenty time to pick a good pass. He often let the side down though with too many ‘Hollywood’ balls that went straight through to Halliwell. He could have done more to show for short passes from County’s defence, who were being pressed by Thistle’s two forwards. County’s defenders didn’t want to take too much creative responsibility and it should have been up to Lawson to spray the ball to the flanks to stretch Thistle’s defence.
The first fifteen minutes of the second half played very similar to the first.
After the goal in the first half, County had Corcoran revert to his ‘natural’ wide-left position and played a loose 4-4-1-1, which looked more often like a lop-sided 4-3-3.
This picture shows the lop-sided 4-3-3 in the second half, with Brittain playing further up the field and more wide than the other County midfielders.
County then tried to change things up, by bringing on Garry Wood and Jimmy Scott for Corcoran and Brittain. They went to a 4-4-2 diamond formation, with Gardyne playing off the front two. Thistle still had spare players at the back through; it was almost a back six with McNamara playing so deep.
[N.B. The picture depicting the formation shows Lawson playing really deep, but he was further forward than this.]
The only joy County got in an attacking sense was from Jimmy Scott advancing down the right and beating Boyle on numerous occasions. Boyle had a good game, but by then was looking to tuck in a little and help Thistle keep a compact shape. Scott had one first-time shot in particular that sliced slightly wide of the near post, but if County were going to score then it would have come from a contribution from Scott.
Unfortunately for County, they never really looked like scoring and it was Partick Thistle who got the next goal from the counter attack. Thistle barely got out of their own half in the second period, but did enough to get the ball in the back of the net when County ended up with a 3-3-4 formation.
I can see why Thistle fans were not optimistic going into this game: they had not won a point away from home in the league this season and even look like a particularly good team today.
However, Partick Thistle made the most of their fortune at a set-piece, defended diligently and eventually got a goal on the counter-attack late on.
I cannot pick out a single-best player on the park, but I thought Robertson and Archibald in defence had particularly good games alongside Kinniburgh. Their experience and organisational skills at the back were key to Thistle keeping a clean sheet today. In addition, Boyle was tireless as a wing-back and although didn’t always get on the ball, he provided much needed balance to the team between defence and attack.
On the other hand, County do not look like scoring a goal in the league against any kind of organised defence, which is worrying. Andrew Barrowman’s pending return will do little to change the dynamic of the team; in fact he does less off-the-ball than the other forwards.
Derek Adams needs to come up with something different if he wants his team to beat Thistle next Sunday in the Challenge Cup. They tried four different formations during the game, but never looked like equalising let alone beating a team that was desparately short of form and confidence.