This Saturday 16 December 2011 should see two in-form teams meet each other at Victoria Park.
Ross County have won their last ten matches, since losing to Celtic in the League Cup on 21 September 2011. They are unbeaten in the league since their only defeat, away to Hamilton Academical on 13 August.
Dundee have won their last six matches, since losing at home to Partick Thistle on 29 October.
The two clubs will be able to field close to their first-choice teams. However, those unavailable from the last matches will be missed to some extent.
Ross County are likely to start with the similar 4-4-1-1 shape that has brought recent success.
There are two main absentees for Ross County. Marc Fitzpatrick is likely to miss out at left-back, after injuring his knee in County’s last competitive match against Raith Rovers. County’s captain and right-midfielder Brittain is suspended from collecting six yellow cards. The suspension would have been served against Ayr United in the past weekend, but that match was postponed.
Dundee‘s on-form right-winger Nicky Riley is Dundee’s only main absentee from recent weeks. How to replace him will be Dundee manager Barry Smith’s biggest concern.
The suggested selection for Ross County is made on the presumption that County manager Derek Adams will want to cause as little disruption as possible to the side.
- Rocco Quinn is not a natural winger, more an all-rounder in central midfield. Then again, he replaces Brittain who could be described in the same fashion. Quinn has a quality right foot and can put in dangerous crosses from the flank, but he is unlikely use pace to beat opposing left-back Lockwood on the out-side.
- Other options on the right flank include Marc Corcoran as an inverted winger, or Steven Craig, naturally a centre-forward who has sometimes been asked to play on the right flank in recent years, to little success. However, it is most likely to be Quinn to replace Brittain, which was hinted at by Quinn coming on for Brittain at right-midfield towards the end of County’s last competitive match, against Raith Rovers.
- With Marc Fitzpatrick injured, the obvious choice to replace him will be previous favourite Scott Morrison. ‘Scotty Mo’ has a potent left foot and will be keen to attack down the right-hand side. With Riley injured (and centre-forward Milne his likely direct replacement), Morrison will feel he has some licence to over-lap Vigurs down the left.
- Other options at left-back include Alex Cooper, who has only featured on the bench so far in County’s win over Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup, or putting Iain Vigurs to left-back. The latter option was used when Fitzpatrick was injured early in the Raith Rovers match, but probably only because neither Morrison nor Cooper were on the bench that day.
Dundee have less necessary changes to consider. However, having Riley absent is arguably more important to them than County losing Fitzpatrick and Brittain, as well as those two players have done this season.
- Steven Milne is Dundee’s top scorer, so Dundee manager Barry Smith will be tempted to keep him up front, with his developing partnership with Jake Hyde.
- If Milne stays up top, then Jamie McCluskey will play on the right wing. McCluskey recently turned 24, but doesn’t have a lot of first team experience at this stage in his career. He might not be inclined to track County’s attacking full-back as well as Milne might.
- Milne has played on the right wing before this season (as he did at times for County in the last campaign). He will therefore likely start wide-right.
- With Milne on the flank, Calum Elliot will probably partner Hyde. Elliot was on loan at Dundee from Hearts, but his employment at Hearts has recently been terminated. We assume that he will have joined Dundee on a permanent contract and is available for this match. Elliot is six feet tall, but has a deceptively low centre of gravity and is good with the ball at his feet. He will play as the second striker, behind Hyde who will be more of a target man.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
On the face of it, County and Dundee look as if they will approach the match in a similar fashion. It is surprising to see how similar they are, on paper.
Both teams have:
- A strong back four, with attacking full-backs.
- Two central midfielders that will, on the whole, sit back and let the others do the attacking. Lawson and O’Donnell have similar deep-lying roles. Kettlewell and Rae will make the odd burst towards the opposition box but will otherwise support the other midfielders.
- Technically superb left-sided midfielders, who can cross from the left or drift in to attack from the edge of the box. Conroy will probably do more of the former and Vigurs more of the latter.
- Right-sided midfielders playing out of position, but who will be dependable. Milne will attack the far post at every opportunity, when Conroy or Lockwood cross from the left. Quinn might have more of a tendency to hang on the edge of the box in a similar circumstance, but the truth is he has hardly played that position in his time at County, nor indeed anywhere else.
One difference in the approach of the two teams will be County’s use of Gardyne, between the lines of Dundee’s midfield and defence. While County are in possession, Gardyne will link up with McMenamin and others around Dundee’s penalty box. However, when Dundee are in control of the ball in County’s half, Gardyne will likely drop deep and wait for the ball to come to him for the counter-attack. Hyde and Elliot will probably play closer to each other, which will keep both County centre-backs occupied.
WHO TO LOOK OUT FOR
On County‘s side:
- Vigurs can change the pattern of a match by drifting inside and over-loading the central midfield area (along with Gardyne who would drop off the forward line).
- County will want to play the game on the front foot, which would involve getting Scott Morrison forward, taking Steven Milne back with him.
- McMenamin and Gardyne have been electric on the counter-attack in recent wins.
- With potentially less penetration from the right-hand side, Conroy on the left will have to perform well against Gary Miller. Miller can normally rely upon Brittain’s work ethic in front of him, but will be relying on a new rapport with Quinn.
- Gavin Rae will be expected to make late runs into the box, to drag County’s midfield out of shape.
- With Vigurs not always sticking to the left flank, Gary Irvine could find himself free on the pitch at right-back. His overlaps on the right will be important for Dundee to keep some sense of balance, as Milne in front of him is not a natural winger.
With two in-form teams set up similarly, Saturday should bring a fascinating match to watch. Each teams will probably have spells of controlling the match, but given the strength of the respective defences, counter-attacks might bring the best chance of a goal in open play.