This Saturday sees County and Ayr meet each other for the first time since the 2009/10 season, with Ayr winning bouncing back from relegation that season by gaining promotion through the play-off system earlier this year.
Ross County are on a five match unbeaten streak in the league, while Ayr United will follow two wins in succession in all competitions, including beating Hearts in the league cup recently.
County’s home record is above average, remaining unbeaten in the league but drawing three out of four matches so far. Ayr’s recent away form is considerably poor, losing 4-0 at Partick Thistle and then 4-1 at Morton.
This match has an interesting tactical perspective, with the possibility of very little space on the pitch for both teams who might pack their midfields. County will have the better ‘better players on paper’ on the park to cope with the short, quick passing required, but football doesn’t always work like that.
Last week’s teams, arguably the preferred line-up for both. Ross County in blue; Ayr in white. There are some doubts on this weekend’s selections. Ross Robertson played at the back for Ayr last week, not John.
It is believed that Ross County’s classic inside-forward Michael Gardyne is a doubt to play against Ayr due to a thigh strain.
If Gardyne plays, then it is suggested that County might line up as in the diagram above, with the team performing reasonably well (but for finishing chances) against Raith Rovers last weekend.
If Gardyne doesn’t play, then a couple of things might happen:
- Gardyne could be replaced by either Kurtis Byrne or Sam Morrow, both strikers who would partner McMenamin up front. County would revert to an orthodox 4-4-2 formation. Perhaps left-winger Corcoran would have a role to play in the team in that event, to compensate for a lack of natural width otherwise.
- The midfield pack could be re-shuffled. Stuart Kettlewell might return to the team to sit beside Paul Lawson in deep midfield. Rocco Quinn could get pushed forward to support McMenamin up top, while serving a solid link between midfield and attack, much as Gardyne does.
As for Ayr, it is unlikely that their line-up will change from last Saturday, where they won against Queen of the South at home with the 4-5-1 formation above. The main variables are in defence. It was Ross Robertson who started against Queens. Given that he and Smith performed well enough together against Queen of the South, they are likely to start again. The diagrams show ex Partick Thistle defender John Robertson in the team, but he might have to sit out. Veteran powerhouse Martyn Campbell has lost his place in the team to Smith at the back due to injury. Otherwise, Mark Roberts looks in good form and will probably keep his place in front of Wardlaw.
Alternative line-ups, set up against each other
AYR: WHAT TO EXPECT
- With Mark Roberts up front, Ayr will not deliberately play a long-ball game.
- Ayr will pack the midfield, but will be in danger of inadvertently surrendering possession and a lot of territory if their midfielders are not on top of their games. Trouten is a luxury player at times, while Greggan is probably more of a grafter and not as good at playing a passing game. McKernon is certainly promising, but is still very inexperienced at 19 years old and will drift out of games.
- It might be crucial for one of Ayr’s wide midfielders, (probably Moffat, playing on the left while being a right-footer), to tuck inside and help the other midfielders keep possession.
- Moffat will have an important role in supporting the striker. Moffat is very quick and will make diagonal runs towards the box, but will be easily tracked unless Malone behind him makes an over-lapping run to distract the defending right-back.
- It is likely that Ayr will get the ball to the wings early, with McKernon in particular able to spray a long pass, to keep their wide midfielders involved in the game as much as possible.
- If Ayr are particularly looking for an equalising or winning goal towards the end of the match, expect them to play a 4-4-2 formation, with Moffat joining Roberts or Wardlaw up front. Trouten would go to the right-wing, with McGowan switching to the left.
There was at least one very good attacking move made last Saturday by Ayr, judging by QoSTV‘s highlights. Roberts dropped deep to link with McKernon, with Moffat coming in off the wing and beyond Roberts. That is the kind of play that really hurts a team like County, because
- If Boyd follows Roberts out, as Boyd has been prone to doing sometimes, it leaves a gaping hole beside Munro,
- McKernon has a good eye for a pass, despite his lack of experience
- Moffat might get tracked back by Brittain from County’s right-mid position, but Moffat’s pace would get beyond him
- Moffat’s momentum going to the box would trump Munro’s strength.
1. Moffat passes the ball inside to McKernan.
2. McKernan plays a first-time pass on to Roberts, who has dropped deep to collect the ball. Scott Boyd, one of County’s centre-backs, follows him.
3. Roberts plays a first-time pass to the on-rushing Moffat, who has beaten his marker (Brittain) for pace.
Moffat is now beyond Brittain and more importantly Boyd. Grant Munro has lots of experience but not a lot of pace, so will have to call on his excellent sense of timing and for right-back Gary Miller to tuck in. Boyd needs to make sure that he tries not to follow Roberts to far, but to allow Lawson or another midfielder to pick up the attacker when he drops deep.
Perhaps the most important conundrum for Brian Reid’s team is who of the central midfielders will deal with marking County.
Ross County’s full-backs are so important to the team’s attacks, because they help over-load in numbers in key areas of the pitch.
In a scenario as above, with County potentailly pinning back Ayr with a spell of good possession, Ayr could have problems dealing with the numbers in midfield:
- With Rocco Quinn possibly playing ‘between the lines’, supported by Iain Vigurs, both Greggan and McKernon will feel the need to fall back.
- Trouten is not much a worker off-the-ball, so this might allow plenty time for Paul Lawson to get on the ball. Lawson and Brittain are highlighted yellow as the spare midfielders, because County’s attacking full-backs will need to be marked as well.
- With that in mind, it might not be surprising to see Ayr even go with another defensive midfielder like Ross Robertson (with perhaps John Robertson filling in at centre-back), rather than Trouten.
- If Ayr’s own full-backs meet County’s midfielders, there would be space for McMenamin to exploit.
WHAT OF ROSS COUNTY?
On the assumption that Gardyne will not be fit to start the match and Derek Adams will go for a five-man midfield (probably in a 4-2-3-1 shape):
- Vigurs will tuck in from the left, linking up with Quinn and McMenamin. The success of this will depend on how well the left-back overlaps, with Scott Morrison probably a better bet with such a tactic against Ayr than Fitzpatrick.
- County will depend on their width from both full-backs, with Gary Miller invariably bombing forward. Ayr’s Moffat could find some space behind him as a result.
- County’s defence will likely squeeze the play up to the half-way line, so that County will be dictating the match in Ayr’s half. Ayr will hit on the counter attack and their success in that depends on how high up Ayr wish to keep Moffat. If he stays high up the pitch then he can get behind Gary Miller at right-back (which would be a red card waiting to happen). However, this would be risky in its own right, because Ayr would effectively lose an extra man in midfield by leaving Moffat closer to County’s defence.
2-1 to Ross County, with Ayr scoring the first goal with an assist from McKernon.