Life tends to get in the way of doing these articles more often. This is an attempt to outline what to expect from Partick Thistle this Saturday and how Ross County can best set up against that.
95% of the readers of this site will know the abbreviations used in this article, but here is a brief glossary for positions:
FB: Full-back, as either RB right-back or LB left-back
CM: Central midfield
DM: Defensive midfield
AM: Attacking midfield
LW: Left midfield/wing
RW: Right midfield/wing
This is the likely Partick Thistle XI against Ross County this weekend. There are a few variables, but the shape should remain the same.
Erskine and Flannigan are competing for the same position on the wing; Balatoni and Kinniburgh like-wise at centre-back; and Stewart and Elliot also for a place up front beside Doolan. Flannigan has started ahead of Erskine for the last few matches, but Erskine will probably see 30 minutes of the match at least.
THISTLE IN ATTACK
- If the right winger is Flannigan, he will collect the ball and run inward towards goal, to shoot or combine with CFs. He will only occasionally cross from wide. Showing him on to his left foot to cross will make him less effective.
- If the right winger is Erskine, he will look to isolate and commit the defending left-back. He can hug the touch-line until the ball is received, stretching the defence. He can either drive towards bye-line for a cut-back across the face of the box, or shoot for goal. Fitzpatrick at LB is sometimes clumsy in his tackles, so could be vulnerable to conceding fouls with late challenges. Tricky.
Compare Flannigan’s runs with the ball to Erskine’s. Erskine is a little more unpredictable and is not afraid to dribble around the outside of the LB. Doolan might drop off to combine with Flannigan, but if he knows Erskine will get to bye-line, he will make a run to the near post for a finish.
- It is possible that Erskine will start on the left and Cairney on the right. If that is the case, Erskine will still vary his attacks. When staying wide, there will be space for LB Sinclair to get forward and shoot. Sinclair looks to have a promising left foot.
- Cairney on other flank is stocky and powerful. He isn’t a winger and relies on over-loading from the supporting full-back.
- Doolan is very dangerous if left un-marked. He tends to make space for himself for loose balls in the box. He can also come short and score from distance.
- Rowson is one of the best all-round midfielders in division. He can spray the ball on the diagonal to Erskine on RW with ease (see Queen of the South). He can also drive on beyond attack to make space, despite his age.
Erskine is willing to stay high and wide. Rowson’s excellent range of passing from DM means that the County LB can quickly become isolated, forcing a 3v3 situation and with Erskine always having a good chance of beating his man.
- Thistle always have 3 players ready for the counter-attack: 1 winger plus 2 x CFs. The wide midfielder on the more narrow side doesn’t join in on the attack until very late. There is enough skill and pace in the top 3 to threaten most defences.
- Rowson & Robertson are tenacious midfielders in defence. They sit and protect the defence when the team is set in. Cairney offers positional support to his LB.
- Thistle look their weakest when defending a counter-attack. When their midfield isn’t set, the defence is vulnerable to balls over top and through balls between FB and CB.
- If they play a high line, the ball over top with pace is useful (pace from Byrne, Craig, Corcoran). The defence is slow on the turn and give up the chase quite easily (see recent Falkirk chances).
- Through balls are always possible around the FBs. Both FBs can get forward, leaving space behind them. Sinclair shows potential at LB but is inexperienced.
If Thistle play any kind of high defensive line, the key is to play balls over the top of the defence and particularly behind the full-backs. It is crucial to release the ball quickly before Thistle’s CMs can help out their defenders. If Steven Craig plays (#9), he will look to play on the defenders’ shoulders.
- What is possibly GK Fox’s biggest weakness is his decision-making on when to come off his line. If County were to put deep free-kicks on or around the 12-yard spot, the GK might come out and miss (see the recent game against Queen of the South). Other times he stays rooted on his line for a save, which would give space for Munro and Boyd to dominate. There is a lot of pressure on the Thistle CBs as a result.
Two possible line-ups. It’s often difficult to predict a line-up because of the size of squad, but the left of the two diagrams (or something similar) did well in the second half against Falkirk two Saturdays previous.
Formations are entirely neutral; it is how the formation is used and the tactics deployed that mean much more than an exact position on the pitch. However, this site would rather a 4-2-3-1 against Thistle in this match.
- County would have a numerical advantage in central midfield. Thistle’s CMs Rowson and Robertson would naturally want to match up with the two opposite them, Brittain and Lawson at DM. If that is the case, Quinn at AM would be un-marked. If Quinn gets marked, that would leave Lawson at DM un-marked.
County will hope to have Lawson as the spare, un-marked player in the team. If so, he can dictate the tempo of the match and bring Corcoran and Gardyne in to play.
- Playing Corcoran and Gardyne high up the pitch allows a quick counter attack. Corcoran is useful as a ‘last 30 mins’ substitute against tired legs and doesn’t always seem to have the fitness nor defensive discipline to play 90 mins, but does look in form at the moment.
- Gardyne is always worth a place in the team, because he can work the football like no-one else within the Ross County squad. On the left of a 4-2-3-1 occasionally suits him, but he needs an over-lapping left-back to distract Gardyne’s marker and allow Gardyne to attack the box with the ball at his feet.
Gardyne, typically an old-fashioned Scottish inside forward, is predominantly right-footed and can be predictable on the left flank. He can find himself dribbling into double-marking defenders and needs the overlap to really threaten. Switching Gardyne with Corcoran, so that County’s RB can over-lap and help Gardyne without the threat of Thistle’s RW, might be appropriate. But then that is taking away what has made Corcoran relatively successful in recent times.
- However, if a LB was to over-lap Gardyne, that would leave Thistle’s Flannigan/Erskine un-marked at RW, leaving County very vulnerable to a counter-attack themselves.
- Steven Craig is in form for County and is high in confidence. It would be a brave decision to drop him, even if a quality replacement in McMenamin is available. Craig’s apparently better acceleration might help him against Thistle’s defence than McMenamin’s nous and technique.
Saturday should see a tactically interesting game. County have gone through a variety of formations and personnel already this season, while Thistle seem to be pretty settled with a lop-sided 4-4-2 set-up.
Since Ross County are at home, it would not be a huge surprise to see County line up with a matching 4-4-2 formation, or a 4-4-2 diamond with either Rocco Quinn or Michael Gardyne at the tip of the midfield diamond.
This site does believe that the game can be won with Lawson getting the ball high and wide early, behind the Thistle full-backs. The best arguable solution for that would be to partner Lawson with another DM at the base of a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Check out Partick Thistle’s highlights service to see some of these ideas in motion.