This was Ross County’s fourth home game during the month of February and the fourth draw result. It was the third scoreless draw in a row.
Partick Thistle started the game with a defensive 5-3-2/3-5-2, just as they had done so in their two previous visits to Dingwall this season (where Thistle won 2-0 and lost on penalties after drawing 2-2 after extra-time).
Once again, neither team looked like scoring. Partick Thistle created next to nothing in open play and only really threatened at set-pieces. Ross County tried to make head-way down the flanks, but their final delivery was often disappointing and the finishing from their forwards wasteful.
Starting formations. Kinniburgh was substituted for Erskine after 30 minutes, with Thistle reverting to a 4-4-2.
Thistle started with five at the back and McNamara sitting in front of them, as they had done in their two previous visits.
Although County played with two strikers for the duration of the match, they found it hard to break down Thistle’s well organised defence. The picture above shows the Thistle defenders marked in green (apart from Hodge at left-back, oops) and County’s two strikers in red. It was unlikely that County could play through the centre of the Thistle defence, with a spare man at the back and the defence holding its line against the 18 yard box.
Jimmy Calderwood set County up in an orthodox 4-4-2 again, dropping Barrowman and Gardyne to the bench, but welcoming Lawson into the centre of midfield.
In previous posts I have lamented the lack of balance and creativity from County’s central midfield. Lawson and Kettlewell enjoyed a good season together in 2009/10, but this might have been their first appearance together this season. They clicked instantly and Lawson in particular had an influential game.
Lawson stood off the play quite a lot and allowed Kettlewell to engage with the Thistle midfield directly (with support from Brittain when he sometimes tucked in from the right-hand side). This gave Lawson the time and space to dictate the tempo of the game.
One positive from his performance was how willing Lawson was to collect the ball from the centre-backs, to build play from the back. This allowed County to keep possession of the ball for longer than they have enjoyed in recent matches, when defenders have been under pressure to clear the ball and lose the ball recklessly. Lawson’s ability to play from the back was a refreshing change.
Lawson showed a good range of passing, from collecting the ball from centre-backs, to switching the ball from right to left, to playing the defence-splitting ball as above, on the rare occasion that the Thistle defence pushed up high enough to play a ball in behind. His performance was exponentially better than when he played Thistle in the 0-2 defeat at the start of October.
Partick Thistle in possession
Thistle threatened to score from a succession of set-pieces at the start of the game (in a similar pattern to the other two games already mentioned) but rarely looked dangerous in possession.
This picture shows how difficult it was for the Thistle team to play their way towards the County goal due to their set-up. Rowson had a solid game and supported McNamara in defensive duties, but while Thistle played a 5-3-2 he found himself having to defend more than attack. As Thistle were so compact (from top to bottom or defence to attack), they struggled for an out-ball and the forwards were too far from the opposition goal to prove much of a danger.
After half an hour, Thistle were forced into a change and the substitution made McCall change the set-up of his side from a defensive 5-3-2 to a 4-4-2 that matched County, with Flannigan moving to the right-wing and Rowson partnering McNamara, who was still inclined to sit in front of the centre-backs.
However, the change only afforded Kettlewell and Lawson more space in midfield and County continued to control the run of play. It took until just before half-time for Thistle to create the chance above, where Flannigan fired a dangerous ball across goal, but Doolan found himself off-side trying to get on to the cross.
Up until Thistle’s change to 4-4-2, County were able to double-up their wide midfielders and full-backs against Thistle’s wide defenders.
County’s best chance of creating a goal was going to come from a cross from the bye-line, with Thistle’s experienced but immobile defenders having to defend on the turn. The final ball was more often than not pretty poor and Di Giacomo struggled to get the better of Paton (which is no surprise as Di Giacomo is no left-winger).
The pattern of play in the second half was very similar to the first.
Although Thistle’s confidence on the ball grew later in the match, they still found it difficult to create much in open play and were restricted to shots from out-side the box, none of which were on target.
Milne had an industrious game up front, but nothing fell for him in front of goal. He was taking up positions to be the creator, but his touch was often too heavy and his final ball disappointing.
Wood tried his hardest during the match, but his confidence in front of goal is shot. The picture above illustrates a difficult chance to score, but he ought to have done better than just collide with the goalkeeper.
I accidentally deleted the photo I had, but the last few minutes saw Miller play right-wing with Marr behind him. This might be an indication that Calderwood sees Miller as an option for high on the right hand side. Miller gave away a series of cheap free-kicks at right-back, which might have cost his team.
The result wasn’t surprising, but it is disappointing to have to report on a third successive match ending 0-0. County continue to find it difficult to create chances against teams playing three centre-backs and ought to be doing more with the possession they have.
Partick Thistle’s away form is explained in the way the team is set up, with the priority is to not concede before scoring a goal. It has worked at Victoria Park this season anyway, with 4 points gained out of 6.
It was positive, from a County perspective, to see Lawson return to the team. If Vigurs replaces Di Giacomo at left-midfield, County have arguably the strongest midfield unit in the Division. They need to create more chances to live up to that billing.