County won this game on penalties, but could and probably should have won the game long before the final whistle of the regulation 90 minutes.
The first half was poor, and pretty much the same as the previous weekend’s performance, but County improved in the second half and into extra-time, without showing much of a cutting edge.
The main tactical change between the two teams from last Saturday was that County went with two forwards in a 4-4-2 diamond. Lawson lost his place in midfield after a poor performance last week and was dropped to the bench, while Di Giacomo and Corcoran fell out of the squad entirely. Partick Thistle went with the team that won 2-0 last week.
Although it wasn’t ultimately needed, I was surprised County didn’t have a ‘plan B’ on the bench. I might have had Smith and/or Corcoran on the bench to give some width. It turns out that Barrowman was all Derek Adams and Ross County needed as an extra option.
3 v 2
Last week, Di Giacomo struggled up front on his own against three central defenders. This week, Wood and Craig tried to link up as well as they could. County never got much out of the three defenders though; man of the match Archibald led by example, Kinniburgh was solid and Robertson was effective as a sweeper. Thistle always had a spare man at the back, so although County won more of the second ball after a punt up to the forwards than last Saturday, it was still difficult for them.
The key for both teams to getting behind the defence was through the width of attacking full-backs. Neither team used their full-backs enough in the match. This picture shows Morrison getting forward for County. Unfortunately for him, Jimmy Scott started on the right of midfield and his crossing and switching of the play was pretty poor all day.
It wasn’t often that County got a full-back behind the defence, because Partick Thistle sat so deep. The picture further up shows that the defence was happy to sit on the 18 yard line. I don’t suppose there is much pace in the Thistle defence, so they wouldn’t have wanted Craig running on to any through balls from deep.
The last thing County wanted was for Thistle to score early. Thistle never looked like scoring from open play throughout the match; both goals came from set-pieces against the run of play.
This picture shows quite clearly how County’s midfield was set up. They outnumbered the Thistle midfield and were able to pass the ball around them, but this mattered little when they couldn’t get behind the defence and Thistle were able to block any shots in and around their box.
Comfortable defending against long ball
The picture here emphasises Thistle’s willingness to sit deep, particularly when they had space to squeeze up and put pressure on County’s midfieders.
McNamara v Gardyne
I thought that McNamara was one of the better players on the pitch, possibly second behind Archibald in the effectiveness in his role. He kept a track of Gardyne throughout the game (while Gardyne was at the tip of the diamond, at least).
It was only one piece of indiscipline by McNamara in the first period of the second half that brought a rash tackle and gave County an opportunity to score from a close-range free-kick.
County improve second half
County improved in an attacking sense in the second half. As players tired, more space became available for balls behind the Thistle defence. This picture showed how County exploited the space between the third centre-back and left wing-back. This is something Di Giacomo did last week, but he didn’t have a strike partner to prove a threat in the middle of the box.
It wasn’t until Barrowman came on late in the match that County had a presence up front that appeared to seriously threaten the Partick back-three. He got the equaliser and might have scored the winner, but he was finding chances for himself that the other forwards didn’t.
The period of extra-time panned out much in the same way as the first 90 minutes. Both teams had chances as the play became stretched (Buchanan for Partick in particular had a good chance saved).
During the first half of extra-time, Gardyne was switched to the left flank to try to get away from McNamara’s marking. Gardyne had a poor game, because he was so well marshalled by McNamara, but these two pictures showed the threat he posed when he had space to run into. In this instance, Gardyne was tripped by McNamara on the edge of the box but a free-kick wasn’t given (which might have had McNamara sent off).
Penalty kicks is always a brutal way of getting a result in a match, but it was the correct result in my opinion. County took the game to Thistle and tried to get a result; Partick relied on poor defending at set-pieces for their goals and sat in (much like last week). County need to do a lot more to beat Queen of the South in the Challenge Cup Final, but Thistle will struggle to get many results with those tactics.