As usual, the annotations on the pictures are as follows: defenders = green; midfielders = yellow; attacking midfield = orange; forwards = red.
Another day, another draw.
This time Ross County didn’t throw away the lead, because they never took the scoring lead at any point in the match. Nonetheless, it will certainly be looked upon as two points lost. County couldn’t quite find the cutting edge to convert the domination of territory and possession into the only currency that matters.
Livingston’s midfield was over-ran for the majority of the match, but were quick on the break towards the end of the game after each side had a man sent off. Livingston made the better chances of the second half and will be mildly disappointed not to have stolen a win.
Apologies for the typo on Scougall
There is not much to talk about in the match tactically. Both teams started in variations of 4-4-2. County’s was an orthodox flat midfield; Livingston’s was a diamond. While Livingston had numerical advantage in central midfield, that is when their wider midfielders tucked in, Livi didn’t do anything with it. County tried to use width on both sides and were probably more successful on the left flank, with Corcoran willing to run at defenders and winning corners.
RUSSELL AND DEUCHAR
The league statistics already show how potent Russell and Deuchar are together as a strike partnership. Russell can run beyond defenders with his pace, while Russell’s height and strength creates chances for himself.
However, both forwards were starved of service for the majority of the match. This was due to 2 reasons:
- Ross County’s high defensive line meant that long balls do Deuchar simply couldn’t work, and
- Livingston’s midfielders were closed down quickly and didn’t have the ability to play enough balls for Russell to chase on to.
One of the few times that play-maker Scougall had of splitting the County defence was mis-timed, with both Livi forwards being caught off-side.
This picture shows Livingston trying to hit the long ball behind County’s high line. Russell had the pace to cause a lot of problems, but Scott Boyd read the game well.
Any threat from Livi in the first 65 minutes (and to be fair, there wasn’t much of a threat to that point) came from set-pieces, from which Livingston scored close to half-time. Brittain scored from a penalty immediately before half-time.
Livingston’s shape was quite obvious, but their gameplan wasn’t quite so. They didn’t always have width, which Deuchar craves on, while they barely had any creativity that Russell relies upon.
Sinclair was played at the base of the diamond, with Bobby Barr being dropped to the bench. If B. Barr had started wide left, Livi might have played with a flat, wide 4-4-2. That might have been risky given County’s quality in midfield, but it might have been worth attacking Miller at right-back.
Fox played to the right of Scougall, but both played in a relative central position. Keighan Jacobs did try to move left to attack the full-back when he could, but could have done with Talbot at left-back supporting him more.
And that is the point. With a midfield diamond, any width typically has to come from the full-backs, with the defensive midfielder at the base of midfield covering the two centre-backs. With no attacking full-backs, Livi’s shape looked a little lop-sided towards the left and unbalanced, with not much threat coming from the left either.
Thus County had a lot of space to exploit on Livingston’s right-back space and County won a high number of corners in the first half from play around this area.
SECOND HALF; COUNTY’S DIAMOND
For all that Ross County dominated proceedings in the first half, they only looked like scoring when Livi’s goal-keeper McNeil struggled at corners.
Derek Adams changed his team in the second half, bringing Gardyne on for Corcoran. County altered their midfield to a diamond, presumably to match Livingston man-for-man.
Ironically, Livingston were forced into a change, bringing Bobby Barr on for Keaghan Jacobs. Barr went to the right wing and Scougall to the left of a flat 4-4-2. The two teams had therefore effectively traded formations at half-time.
The difference in execution of the formations was apparent:
- County played with a high defensive line for the majority of the match, while Livingston were happy to sit deep.
- With Livi starting from a deeper position, their midfield zone was stretched.
- Whereas Vigurs and Quinn for County communicated well with each other in the first half on who sat back and who went forward, there was no leadership in the centre of Livi’s midfield.
- In particular, the Livi midfielders look to try to pass on the responsibility of picking up County’s midfield runners to each other.
The result of this was County enjoying even more possession deep in Livingston’s half. A winning goal looked likely, because of the space given to Gardyne, Vigurs and particularly Quinn between the lines.
Another big difference in the execution of the formations was how well County got their full-backs forward compared to Livingston. In the second half, Brittain sat at the base of the midfield diamond and spread the play from side to side, with Miller and Fitzpatrick given licence to attack in unison.
Livi’s midfield didn’t have any cohesive, defensive shape and continually let County’s midfielders run beyond them.
County were very much looking on top of the match and getting behind the Livi defence when Steven Craig inexplicably got send off for an incident in the penalty box before a corner was taken. A minute later, Livi’s centre-back Watson was sent off as well for a second yellow card, so all of a sudden there was more space on the pitch.
The aftermath of the red cards brought tactical interest. In a sense, it suited County better because their shape barely changed; they simply played with a forward less and had Gardyne play closer to goal. Livingston had to take Deuchar off up front so also played with a striker less, but changed their shape to something resembling 4-3-1-1.
Bobby Barr, who came on at half-time but who had barely touched the ball prior to the sendings off, brought a lot of pace and directness in his running behind Russell. Livingston’s main threat came from them hitting on the counter, but County’s defence was well organised on the whole to deal with the danger.
After the red cards, County still looked the most likely to score until Miller was substituted. He found a lot of space on his team’s right wing, but his crossing was exceptionally poor.
However, it was surprising to see him substituted. He was County’s main attacking outlet at that point (with Quinn and Vigurs getting forward when they could, but both began to tire in covering more ground than before). Miller was replaced by Kettlewell, normally a defensive central midfielder, who barely passed the half-way line and Kettlewell himself was not positionally sound in defence, which gave Livi a weakness to gain some momentum from towards the end of the match.
Following Miller’s replacement, County were limited in their attacks. McMenamin and Gardyne had too much work to do on their own and weren’t being provided the service needed. Livingston by the end looked the most likely to score with their pace up front.
On the whole, Ross County should have comfortably won the match, but they couldn’t deliver the killer ball required to score the second goal. One move had County have at least a dozen touches of the ball in the Livi box without shooting at goal, which is reflective of their lack of cutting edge at times.
Ross County now play Celtic in the league cup on Wednesday. If they play like they did between 45-65 minutes against Livingston, Celtic might be in for an unpleasant surprise.