Colour coding in the annotated pictures is, as usual:
Green = defence
Yellow = midfield
Orange = attacking midfield/wingers (e.g. Finnigan or Gardyne in a 4-4-1-1)
Red = centre-forwards
Please click on the pictures for further annotations.
The points were shared in an even, competitive contest that had some excitement and goal-mouth activity, but not many shots on target.
Ross County attacked from the start of the match, netting an early goal and looking good value for their lead. Dundee scored from a penalty mid-way through the first half against the run of play and gradually grew into the game, eventually having the best of the territory and possession in the second half.
A score draw seemed inevitable for two teams who play broadly in the same manner and who arguably have the same level of quality of players in their squads.
The two teams 1) lining up and 2) matching up
As predicted, both teams went with 4-4-2 formations. Ross County’s formation was more of a 4-4-1-1, with Gardyne playing slightly off McMenamin. With Stuart Kettlewell fit again, County played their first-choice midfield that has a league record this season of W6 D3 L0.
New Dundee signing Carl Finnigan started up front beside Hyde, with Milne dropped to the bench. Dundee also exploited the trialist system once again, starting Kevin McBride before Ross Chisholm. Whether or not Ross County’s formation should be classed as 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2, the notation should be the same as Dundee’s, because Finnigan dropped off the front as much as Gardyne did for County.
DUNDEE’S MIDFIELD SHRUGGING RESPONSIBILITY; PRESSURE ON DEFENCE
The tone of the first half was set early on, with Dundee’s defence looking nervous on the ball.
It didn’t take long for a half-chance to be made for Ross County, which started from some slow passing from defence and Gardyne pressing diligently. McBride, playing his first competitive football match for some time, didn’t release the ball early enough and put McGregor under pressure.
That wasn’t an incident in isolation. This second picture illustrates the pressure Weston and McGregor had to release the ball early. Dundee didn’t want to just punt the ball forwards for every attack, with Munro’s presence at the back for County. At the same time, Dundee’s defenders found their job much more difficult by a) O’Donnell not coming deep and b) McBride not being able to shake off Gardyne.
Dundee’s O’Donnell is the constant presence in an unsettled Dundee midfield (in the context of the whole season). O’Donnell didn’t seem focused at certain points in the match, which exacerbated Dundee’s problem in gaining possession.
COUNTY MIDFIELD’S STRONG START
Having said that, Ross County played well enough to impose themselves on the Dundee defence in any case. Their midfield four is unbeaten – when playing together – for a reason.
Ross County’s high-energy pressing without the ball gave meant that they won the ball back early and Dundee often found it difficult to play through midfield.
When County won the ball back, they were occasionally able to find time and space in midfield, because of the shape that they arranged themselves in. Gardyne was at the tip of this diamond shape, with McBride unable to do much about being by-passed.
However, for the most part, when County won back possession they looked for an early ball beyond the Dundee defence for McMenamin and Gardyne to chase. Dundee’s Weston in particular looked uncomfortable in having to turn to defend facing his own goal.
It was little surprise that Ross County were able to make a couple of opportunities at goal, with the space available to Lawson to find a pass beyond the defence. With O’Donnell marking Kettlewell, it was McBride’s (or Finnigan’s) responsibilty to close Lawson down.
Dundee manager Barry Smith might be disappointed on the goal conceded, because of the point made from the picture before, but also because Kettlewell and Brittain weren’t picked up. With Gardyne benefiting from Lawson’s range of passing, he laid the ball for Morrison to cross first time. By that point, Kettlewell had drifted past O’Donnell’s blind side and had attacked the box, without properly being picked up by McBride. Brittain knocked the ball back across the box for Kettlewell, who has scored a few vital goals this season by getting into the box from late runs.
McCLUSKEY & FINNIGAN
Ross County didn’t have it all their own way, of course. Dundee always posed a threat on the counter attack, with Finnigan’s runs into the channels and beyond the centre-backs.
However, it took right-winger McCluskey to get on to the ball for County to have to defend on the back foot. Despite probably being the smallest player on the pitch, McCluskey’s close ball control meant that he was Dundee’s best chance of keeping possession in the first half.
It took a professional foul by Kettlewell to stop McCluskey at his most dangerous in the first half, but the movement by he and Finnigan kept County aware of the threat on the counter. Dundee won a penalty from Finnigan’s challenge with Kettlewell on the edge of the penalty box.
While there were no goals in the second half, there was plenty action to get the supporters cheering/moaning, with both teams threatening to create chances. Judging the run of play, the second half played approximately as a mirror image to the first: Dundee took the game to County, with County threatening on the counter attack.
There were, perhaps, a couple of reasons for the change in the pattern of the match.
- Ross County simply couldn’t press with the same intensity of the first half. Their gameplan looked to sit in beyond the pressing stage, using pace to counter.
- O’Donnell looked more determined in the second half and sat in a deeper, play-making role with McBride pushing on a little more.
Carl Finnigan was the sponsors’ man of the match, which is understandable because he was involved everything that Dundee did going forward. His strike partner Jake Hyde had a very quiet match in comparison (as he did the last time he was in Dingwall), but Finnigan terrorised the County defence almost on his own.
Dundee began looking for the early ball over the County defence, in a similar fashion to how County probed in the first half. Finnigan won a lot of cheap free-kicks in County territory, which itself put pressure on County.
Formations after 77 minutes
Later in the game, there were a couple of important substitutions made.
Ross County took Gardyne off and reverted to a 4-1-4-1 formation, which suited them for a couple of reasons:
- It let Lawson sit in front of the defence, while still having the protection of a midfield bank of four in front of him.
- The formation was best served to attack quickly and directly on the counter attack.
The biggest draw-back to the change in formation was that, with County defending close to their 18 yard box and the midfield sitting compactly on top, there was not much of a chance to hold possession. County have struck the balance with this strategy better in other away trips this season (see Partick Thistle and Greenock Morton as examples), but defended well and Dundee didn’t look like scoring.
O’Donnell was at his most influential late on in the match, because he was able to sit off the rest of the play and spread the ball to the flanks and/or forward to the Dundee strikers. Ross County were content to have their midfield sit back and protect the defence, rather than press O’Donnell on the ball.
County’s best opportunity to attack late on came from left-winger Corcoran’s driving runs from the flank. His inclusion brought the benefit of pinning Gary Irvine back, at a time when Dundee would have looked to get their full-backs forward to over-load the County flanks (NB it was surprising to see the restraint of Dundee’s full-backs getting forward, compared to their typical approach).
The picture above shows Lawson as the player furthest forward to support Corcoran. That might have been an anomaly, but possibly a result of he being the spare man in the County midfield to try to close O’Donnell down.
On the whole, a draw was a fair result. Ross County dominated midfield in the first half, while McCluskey, Finnigan and O’Donnell dragged Dundee forward in the second. The two sides were evenly matched for the most part.
The result leaves Ross County top of the league, but only just, on goal difference. Their three games in hand will prove crucial to their title challenge, with Dundee and Falkirk still to visit Dingwall once more this season.