County got a hard earned point from this result, but it was the least they deserved for generally dominating the game against a one-dimensional Queens side.
However, QotS (not to be confused with QoS for Quantum of Solace, that much critised James Bond film), had their own chances in the second half and might have won the game but for poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping.
County lined up in an orthodox 4-4-2, against the QotS’ 3-5-2.
The 3-5-2 v 4-4-2 is normally advantageous for several reasons:
- Three at the back means that there should always be one spare centre-back
- 5 in midfield (including wing-backs) means 3 central midfielders against the opposition’s 2
- The team with 4 at the back normally has a couple of redundant full-backs, if the wide midfielders pick up the opposing wing-backs
Thus the general pattern of the game emerged based on the above. County couldn’t get a grip of or play through the midfield until into the second half and had to rely on either balls played down either touch-line or their full-backs getting forward to support the attack.
This picture shows the three QotS midfielders out-numbering County in the middle of the park. Brittain would tuck in front the right to help his midfield, which invited his opposing left wing-back Conroy to follow him in.
This second picture shows both teams in their default formations. McKenna (circled) is sitting deeper for Queens, giving the three-man defence decent protection. Both wing-backs are tucked in to re-inforce their dominance in midfield.
Incidentally, Barrowman is chasing down the Queens keeper out of frame, which is something that he did regularly throughout the game. Some Ross County supporters question his work ethic, but he led from the front with his pressing of the defence and goalkeeper.
In the first half, QotS tried to make the most of their advantage by allowing Johntson to get up and support the two forwards. This posed a question of the County defence: who would pick up the extra man? Scott and Lawson in the centre of the County midfield would often let Johntson run off them, which let Johnston link with Holmes and McMenamin.
Queens attacking threat
Queen of the South got joy in the game either by:
- Long balls to Holmes and McMenamin, for them to hold the ball up and wait for midfield support (which was very effective), or
- Burns’s runs at McCormack down Queens’ right-wing.
This picture shows Burns getting forward and getting a cross in to the front two. Given that Vigurs and McCormack were tracking back, Burns should have had to have worked harder, but got through with a simple wall-pass with Quinn.
Largely though, Queen of the South relied on Harris’s accurace long balls to the front two. They were limited by the lack of dynamism from Conroy at left wing-back, so the long diagonal ball from left-back played to their strengths.
McCormack & Miller
County like to play the ball through the midfield when they can, but that clearly wasn’t an option against three Queens central midfielders. They therefore relied on Vigurs providing width on the left flank, supported by McCormack, with Miller making forward runs from right-back on the other side. Brittain got himself in good crossing positions on several occasions, but for one excellent cross in each half he largely disappointed with his delivery.
The picture above illustrates Vigurs’s options as a result of the midfield advantage:
- Play a ball to the forwards, where they could be marshalled by three defenders
- Switch the ball to Miller on the right, who had space to run into
- Lay the ball off to McCormack on the overlap
McCormack did his best in supporting, but he is a natural right-sided centre-back and didn’t offer much of a threat. He did help in stretch the Queens team though, as the picture above shows.
County’s best attacks came down the right hand side. With Conroy willing to mark the midfielder when Brittain opted to stay wide-ish, this allowed Miller to run forward and exploit the space between Conroy as the wing-back and Harris as the left-sided centre-back.
The picture above shows Quinn supporting Conroy, but Miller persisted in getting forward when he could.
In the end, the first half was pretty poor in terms of chances created and quality football created. Queens scored from a fairly simple through-pass, which caught Flynn out of position, and kept County subdued with their battling long-ball tactics.
Queen of the South brought on two substitutes after half-time, with McGuffie replacing Johnston in midfield and Weatherston replacing Burns. Neither Burns nor Johnston looked injured prior to half-time, so I can only imagine the changes were of a tactical nature.
Weatherston looked a tidy footballer in the second half, but didn’t offer the same threat going forward as Burns. McGuffie by contrast looked agricultural in possession, as well as in his challenges.
County were forced into a substitution shortly after half-time, when it appeared that Boyd pulled a muscle. Morrison came on, giving natural balance at left-back while McCormack moved into his more recognised role.
County grew in confidence in the second half from largely dominating possession down the flanks and creating some chances, albeit those chances were mostly from the edge or outside the 18 yard box. Craig and Barrowman didn’t get much from the three Queens centre-backs, so goal opportunities had to come from midfielders making late runs to the box. Indeed, County’s goal came from one of a few shots from Vigurs from outside the box, with most of the shots being charged down by the defence.
This picture shows the same pattern in the first half, where County had to use the flanks to break down the QotS defence, because McGuffie played more deep than Johnston and wouldn’t let anyone play through him in midfield. The picture illustrates how much Queen of the South owned the midfield.
How both teams lined up after substitions
Queen of the South effectively invited pressure from County, because:
- Holmes was taken off, meaning Queens didn’t have the same effective ‘out-ball’, and
- McGuffie was sitting deeper than Johnston, allowing Lawson more time and space to play-make
What Queens lacked up front, they made up for in their pressing high up the pitch. Mclaren (when he came on) and particularly Quinn did well in closing down the County defence; it appeared that their best chance of a goal came from forcing mistakes out of the County defence.
However, there was still space to be had behind the QotS midfield, as the first picture above shows, which is something Gardyne attempted to exploit. He ran at the Queens defence and was horribly taken out by McGuffie at one point (something the referee never punished). If he was on the pitch for longer, perhaps he could have contributed to a winning goal.
Queen of the South have a solid spine to their team, but they rely heavily on long balls from Harris to Holmes to ease pressure on their defence and midfield.
County created an excess of chances in the second half, but they couldn’t make the most of their dominance, espeically after Holmes was substituted. It was one of their better recent performances though and will likely escape the relegation zone in weeks to come with similar play.