County were well beaten today by a pretty decent Dundee side. Leigh Griffiths was the best player on the park by some margin and terrorised the County defence all afternoon with his pace and technical ability on the ball.
Craig Brewster’s reign – even if it is a caretaker role so far – could not have got to a worse start. Although he might have got his formation correct at the start, I feel the personnel was wrong. By the time he had the right team playing reasonably well together, County were 0-2 down with the game drifting away.
County started with the same XI that defeated Falkirk 1-0 away last Saturday, but set them out in a 4-2-3-1 formation against Dundee’s orthodox flat 4-4-2.
This is how Dundee started and lined up throughout the match, apart from Witteveen coming on for Griffiths at the very end of the match, to let Griffiths take in the applause from the away fans.
Ross County’s 4-2-3-1 is illustrated here. This was probably the right formation to go with, so that the extra midfielder would be able to get behind Harkins and O’Donnell in central midfield.
It was a surprise that Jimmy Scott was played in the centre of the attacking midfield trident, rather than Gardyne. I felt before the game that Gardyne would be the perfect foil for Barrowman today, because of his tendency to play between the lines of midfield and defence, his ability to keep the ball in key areas of the pitch and run at the defence.
A key element in the game was Dundee’s willingness to release the ball early to Dundee’s forwards Higgins and Griffiths. Higgins isn’t particularly quick compared to Griffiths, but both players looked to play on the shoulder of County’s defenders.
What made Dundee dangerous going forward was the variety in their attacks. Griffiths was just as happy to come short to link midfield and attack, as much as he looked to break the off-side trap, as these two pictures show.
The picture above shows how high County’s defensive was at times. This was a very risky tactic against someone with the pace and technique of Griffiths. He didn’t get too much joy in the first half, but when County were chasing the game in the second half, Griffiths punished the County defence for daring to have such a high line against him.
Dundee got good performances from a number of their players, including their wide men Forsyth and Riley. Forsyth gave Miller – and then Kettlewell – a tough game at right-back with his natural athleticism, while Riley made timely runs to support the front line, getting a goal in the second half.
Gary Harkins sat beside O’Donnell in the centre of midfield and played an unfussy game, ensuring possession was kept when appropriate. He hit the woodwork with this long-range free-kick. Griffiths scored the first goal from a cross from the other side of the pitch, from an unnecessary foul.
County tried to attack down their left, but they were also pretty vulnerable there too. Scott Morrison, the County left-back, was unsettled from the outset. Irvine is a dependable right-back at this level and supplied Riley in front of him with plenty of decent, simple passes.
County attacks down left
In the first half, County never really looked like posing much of a threat. They used Vigurs’s height against Irvine at throw-ins and set-pieces to gain territorial advantage, but didn’t make the most of their possession.
Jimmy Scott, as discussed above, played behind Barrowman. He was willing to go wide and over-load Dundee’s full-backs, which was County’s main plan to get behind the Dundee defence. His decision making was pretty poor at times though and if he didn’t dwell on the ball, he often played the wrong pass.
Steven Craig didn’t have a particularly good 45 minutes. He started on the right of the attacking midfield three, which clearly isn’t his favourite position. He didn’t seem to want the ball and the one time he did get in a dangerous position (playing up front at that point), he sliced his shot so badly it went for a throw-in.
Brewster changed the formation to a 4-4-2 about 30-35 minutes into the first half. This allowed Craig to partner Barrowman – who got no joy out of the excellent McKeown and Weston all afternoon – up front. The 4-4-2 meant that County lost the tactical advantage in midfield, but it meant that Craig was playing in his more natural position and County needed to get more out of him and Barrowman to get into the game.
However, the picture above sums up his game today. The other players in the frame were either watching the play or interacting with one another; Craig was staring at the turf with little interest in what was going on around him.
Second half/Gardyne’s introduction
Brewster made the right call at half-time by taking Craig off and bringing on Gardyne. He changed the line-up to a 4-2-3-1 again.
This meant that Gardyne could play behind Harkins and O’Donnell, but far enough in front of the Dundee centre-backs that he could find the time and space to influence the match.
Unfortunately for him, Griffiths ran on to a ball that ricocheted off a County defender and crossed in for Riley to score within minutes of the start of the second half, which meant that the game was effectively over.
County did begin to play good football for the first time in the game, with the score at 0-2. That was probably down to a combination of:
- Dundee sitting back (to hit on the counter with Griffiths), and
- Gardyne’s uncanny ability to control the ball high up the pitch, regardless of how many players were around him, giving the midfield time to squeeze up and support the forwards.
However, despite the pressure that County put Dundee under, they never made Douglas make anything other than a couple of comfortable saves, which is disappointing on their part considering Douglas appeared to be injured and didn’t take any goal kicks.
The three pictures above do not neet much annotation. Griffiths looked a threat all game, particularly with County attacking and leaving a lot of space at the back. Griffiths had a terrific game and could have had a hat-trick but for a smart save from McGovern.
County had the right idea at the start of the match in out-numbering Dundee in midfield, but it was a shame Gardyne never started. He might have made a difference today when the scores were even, but as is often the case when Griffiths plays against County, it looked inevitable that it was going to be his day.