Ross County won 3 points in this match, but it looked as if there was going to be stalemate until late Substitute Steven Craig scored two counter-attacking goals.
Queen of the South were strong in defence and had a mix of strength, pace and intelligent running up front, but lacked any dynamism from midfield to help penetrate County’s defence. It was only with substitutions that Queen of the South found enough pace in wide areas to exploit space behind County’s full-backs and made their best – and probably only – chance out of this.
Ross County looked a balanced team on the whole, but only created a couple of good opportunities that were well saved by Robinson in goal, until Craig’s introduction at the end.
The teams matched up with 4-4-2 formations, with subtle variations
The two teams were deployed in 4-4-2 formations, which generally meant a couple of things:
- Neither side had a ‘spare’ man in midfield in a nominal sense
- Both sets of full-backs were typically the un-marked players in possession, so had the potential to have important roles in the match.
At first glance, the formation looked similar on the park, but there two main differences:
- Simmons for Queen of the South would quite often sit behind the other three midfielders when they attacked, akin to a 4-1-3-2
- County used ‘inverted wingers’, with right-footed Gardyne on the left-wing and Corcoran on the right.
It is easy to say that County made the best of their strategy out of the two teams because they won, but County did get better use out of their full-backs, largely controlled the centre of midfield and made the better chances as a result.
Queen of the South’s full-backs
Neither of Queens’ full-backs (both co-incidentally named Reid) over-lapped to the extent available to them. Queens manager Gus MacPherson made sure that they kept back at least 3 defenders at any one time, as he quite rightly should, but this should have allowed the spare full-back to get forward and help over-load County’s defending full-back.
The picture above illustrates Craig Reid joining in on the attack too late, with Carmichael already having pulled wide by the time Johnston puts in the cross. Even if Carmichael’s run took County’s strongest centre-back Munro with him, it left Brighton with too many defenders to deal with.
Queens forward players lack service
Tom Brighton has never been a prolific scorer in his career, but he is tall, strong and leads the forward line very well. He held up the ball intelligently for Carmichael at times, but struggled to get the better of County defenders Boyd and Munro.
Danny Carmichael contrasts Brighton handsomely in the ‘big-man/little-man’ strike partnership. Carmichael is much shorter, but is quick, has a low centre of gravity to escape defenders and has a surprisingly large leap. With Brighton’s help, Carmichael should be looking to score at least 10 goals in the league this season.
However, Queen of the South have problems playing from midfield and getting any midfielder to support Brighton and Carmichael in the box.
The picture above shows Carmichael getting on to Brighton’s flick-on. Carmichal had no option available to him on receiving the ball, other than to perhaps hope Brighton runs past him to take a through-ball. The reason there was no option was due to the Queen of the South midfield being static, as they often were during the match. Simmons was so far back in this move that he is out of frame, but the other three midfielders might have done more to support the forwards.
Although all the midfielders were equally culpable (with McShane the best of the four), Simmons and Johnston were particularly ineffective.
Simmons might have been the most defensive-minded of the midfielders, but he didn’t help the defence out by collecting the ball from them. County’s forwards as a result were able to press Queen of the South’s defenders when they were on the ball, so the risky long ball had to be played. Johnston on the other hand did try to support attack when he could, but his age and endurance level is now holding him back in a wide role.
With the Queens full-backs only getting forward to a point, these were the main factors in the lack of supply in quality service of possession to Brighton and Carmichael.
Ross County’s midfield compared better in the match to Queen of the South’s, but there was certainly room for improvement. Even if the performance wasn’t perfect, there were a number of intriguing aspects worth discussion.
Michael Gardyne was one of two inverted wingers and had quite an effective match. He had a back-post header brilliantly saved by Robinson in the first half. Positionally, Gardyne kept high and wide during County’s attacks, with the intent on isolating Craig Reid at right-back and dribbling inside of him. When Gardyne did start from the middle, Kurtis Byrne would counter-balance by drifting left.
Corcoran on the other side had a better match than this site anticipated. That is not to be derogatory on Corcoran’s ability, but was an observation based upon the last time Corcoran and Gardyne were played as inverted wingers together, against Partick Thistle last year.
This time Corcoran was a genuine asset to the team.
Even though he would always have to cut on to his left foot, Corcoran still wasn’t afraid to get to the bye-line, taking a defender with him. Corcoran’s biggest weakness in this regard – apart from his ever improving fitness – is that he is predominantly left-footed, so during the match he wasn’t willing to flash a cross between goalkeeper and defenders. By stopping to get the ball on to his left foot more often than not, Corcoran’s crosses would be headed clear by the imperious Campbell or Craig Reid at the back post.
In addition to this and perhaps more importantly, playing Corcoran as an inverted winger allowed him to attack the box, with Miller over-lapping beyond him. This is an excellent device to use at SFL level, because the defending full-back does not know whether to follow the winger driving in on a diagonal run, or to stay put and deal with the over-lapping full-back.
The tactic does require the attacking full-back to get forward in support to make the most of Corcoran’s play, otherwise it would become predictable.
County’s midfield cannot be discussed without mentioning Rocco Quinn’s performance. This was Quinn’s first time at Victoria Park playing for the home team. He didn’t have his best game, slicing passes occasionally and shooting unnecessarily from distance, but he definitely adds something different to the team and has the potential to add the cutting edge in midfield for the quality final ball. The picture above shows him on the counter-attack, driving with the ball towards the Queens defence, like a right-sided Iain Vigurs. There is a lot of competition for creative places in County’s midfield at the moment, but Quinn has the ability to consolidate his place in the team.
You might think from the above that County strolled through the game, but in truth they only made a few clear-cut chances due to the excellence of the Queens back four and the two centre-backs Campbell and Higgins in particular. What chances were created were saved well by Robinson, but most shooting opportunities came from outside the box, because the forwards well marshalled by the Queens defence and passes had to be laid off for the advancing midfielders.
County’s Stuart Kettlewell was sent off with around 25 minutes to go to full-time for a bad tackle on Queens’s Simmons. Byrne was subbed for Brittain so that County could keep a familiar ‘4-4-1’ shape.
The red card did put County on the back foot for a while, because Queen of the South found it easier to play football from the back and get the ball to the wide players with a less risk-free approach. Indeed, Nicky Clark who came on for Johnston looked to be Queens’s best source of a goal because of his pace. He intermittently swapped sides with McShane (and then Smilie), so posed a threat to the space behind both County full-backs. It was his diagonal run from the left, behind space vacated by an attacking Gary Miller, that Clark had his team’s best chance in a one-on-one, but County’s goalkeeper saved well.
Ross County scored two goals on the counter-attack at the end, with Queen of the South getting more men forward in the hope of a victory. The scoreline was perhaps a harsh reflection on the quality of the Queens defence’s performance, but on the whole County deserved the victory.
Queen of the South have a good striking partnership up front, but they badly need more support from some sort of attacking midfielder. It might be an option to find another forward to replace Carmichael, to let Carmichael make late runs from deep.
Ross County have some positives to take into the league match at Falkirk (which this site should hopefully be covering). Gardyne and Corcoran both carry decent form into the next match, while right-back Miller also had a good game going forward. It will be tempting to give Steven Craig a starting place again, but Byrne and McMenamin’s running will cause problems for Falkirk’s relatively slow defence.