A match report detailing the goals and other events can be found on Alan Ross’s TheJailEnder.com website.
Elgin claimed a surprise victory today, beating Challenge Cup holders Ross County fair and square.
In essence, it was a triumph of organisation and commitment over technique and tactics, with Elgin making at least as many quality chances in the match as Ross County did.
For 60 minutes, County looked reasonably comfortable, despite both sides having opportunities to score, but when Elgin took the lead County could not find a solution to find an equalising goal.
[Please note a new feature to the site: if you hover over or click on a diagram, excluding the formation at the beginning, you will find further notes].
County lined up pretty much as expected in a 4-4-2 diamond. The only doubt here was who was going to play at the base of the midfield: Lawson, Duncan or Kettlewell. Lawson started, primarily to keep the possession in midfield fluid.
Elgin started with three ex-County players, with a couple more coming off the bench. Elgin played with a standard 4-4-2 throughout, kept a compact shape in defence while Gunn’s pace up and Moore’s craft from the left-wing caused County problems all match.
County’s early superiority
As usual, the first thing to think about teams visiting Victoria Park with an orthodox 4-4-2 is to wonder how the visiting team will cope with Gardyne running betwee the lines of midfield and defence.
Indeed, the first goal of the match came early on, with Elgin’s midfielders O’Donoghue and Beveridge bamboozled by Gardyne’s low centre of gravity. Gardyne ran with the ball straight towards the Elgin defence, drawing players towards him, before releasing the ball to the right-hand side of Elgin’s penalty box. County’s left-back Morrison attacked the ball but scuffed a shot across goal and inside the far post. Although the goal-keeper should have saved the shot, this was a classic Ross County play and we might see a few more goals scored like that this year (see last season’s Cowdenbeath match, for example).
From that point onwards, County appeared to be cruising.
County were patient in possession. There was encouraging ball-play from the back from Munro and Flynn, while Lawson dropped deep. Munro and Flynn were not afraid to pull wide when the goal-keeper Fraser had the ball at his feet. There were obvious instructions to not punt the ball down the park from defence, which was refreshing to see… especially following Jimmy Calderwood’s style of play in the second half of last season.
Elgin found it difficult at the beginning of the match to get the ball forward. Their defence and midfield were up against a high-pressing County side who didn’t give the Elgin full-backs time on the ball.
However, the pressing later dropped and Elgin were allowed into the match. Elgin do like to pass the ball on the deck when they can, but they were most effective in either playing the ball wide to Moore on the left-wing or getting the forwards on the ball quickly.
It is ironic that the sponsors’ man of the match award went to an ex Ross County player that could potentially still be an asset for County. Danny Moore was tidy in possession, kept the ball well under pressure and was able to run at – and beat – Gary Miller on several occasions. Miller was booked for a professional foul in the first half and was lucky not to get sent off for something similar in the second. Moore’s delivery into the box was dangerous on a number of occasions; he was unlucky that Elgin’s forwards did not time their runs as well as they could have.
Ross County’s shortfalls
County had their chances and were wasteful in front of goal (as much as Elgin were unlucky in front of goal at times). County’s midfield were clearly technically superior, but were so often too narrow. Elgin learned to defend compact, which meant that County could not play through the middle.
This meant that County’s main source of attack was with the ball over the top. McMenamin and particularly Craig sometimes had the better of Elgin’s defenders for pace and timing, but did not do enough with their opportunities.
Any width had to come from full-back, which did not always work. With Vigurs coming in-field from left midfield at every opportunity, and Brittain doing the same from the right, Morrison and Miller had a lot of ground to cover.
Miller did not have a good game, largely because of the thread of Danny Moore attacking behind him, but also because his earlier booking hindered his aggression.
After Elgin scored their second goal with a ball over the top of County’s defence (Miller’s positioning was suspect at best), County did not have an answer to break down the Elgin defence. County changed to a 4-2-3-1, with Corcoran playing as a left-winger. Corcoran never got any crosses in from the bye-line; rather than take on his marker he crossed from deep. Vigurs could have stayed on the pitch to do the same job and also provide some creativity. Craig moved wide-right, but was rarely in position. His body language and consequent performance showed he is not suited to playing as a wide attacking midfielder.
Some concluding thoughts
- Elgin have a good all-round team for the Third Division. Gunn and Leslie look a good partnership, while Danny Moore is suited to the Second Division, at worst.
- Corcoran had a good pre-season for County, but today didn’t look anywhere near as good as Moore when he came on to the pitch.
- Duncan replaced Lawson towards the end of the game, as County went to the 4-2-3-1. Duncan was expected to recycle possession of the ball early and accurately, to keep the pressure on Elgin when County were chasing the game. Duncan is a good player but doesn’t have the skillset to play that consistently play that type of game. He might struggle at the club if he is expected to be anything but a destroyer and leader.
- Steven Craig isn’t yet just living on his goal against Celtic, but has a lot to prove if he wants to keep his place in the team. Fortunately/unfortunately (delete as applicable) he does not have much competition on the right side of a 4-2-3-1.
- If most of County’s attacking thrust is to arrive from full-back, the team might struggle for goals later in the season due to a lack of ‘natural’ squad cover for both full-back positions.
- The lack of organised shape by County at the end of the match, when they were desparate to get the equalising goal, was alarming.