It has been an eventful close season for Ross County. Yet with over 3 weeks until the league re-commences and the first comepetitive cup tie happening on a week Saturday, there is still plenty time for new events to transpire.
However, with the lack of news on County’s first team affairs since the pre-season training and since friendlies began a few weeks ago, this might be an appropriate time to look at their prospects for next season. The preview will come in 2 parts, with a look at the other teams in the First Division to follow.
Amongst the news of additions to the playing staff at the club, there was the surprise announcement of Derek Adams re-joining as the first team manager.
This website has long been an admirer of Adams’s management skills, but some doubts remain.
Derek Adams is an excellent tactician; I do not believe there is another manager at First Division level that can affect the outcome in a match with a change in strategy in the same way as Adams does.
However, Adams can sometimes be loyal to his players to the detriment of his strategy. Although he has probably never stated it, it was obvious during his previous time at County that Adams would preferrably pick the same winning XI for the next game. There is a lot to be said for doing so, not only because of the hypothetical increase in confidence and form of those players picked. Nevertheless, a winning formula for one team might not be successful against the next team, with contrasting styles and formations. When this happens, it is up to Adams to react to the situation and to his credit he typically knows what is wrong and can salvage a result when a mistake is made.
There are concerns over Adams’s disciplinary record, but the benefit of the doubt should be given for the season ahead.
Overall he was the best option for the club going forward, even if no-one had anticipated his return so soon after leaving Hibs.
After the end of the season, County lost a few players. Darren Smith, who barely featured all season but whom made a promising appearance in the final match of last season, was released to find a new club. Paul Di Giacomo joined Morton. Michael McGovern is currently looking for a club closer to the central belt and is on trial with Falkirk, while Andrew Barrowman joined Dunfermline in the SPL.
In their place are the following:-
- Michael Fraser, goal-keeper, who has plenty experience in the SPL with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. He was latterly playing in Malta, but should prove to be an adequate replacement for McGovern
- Grant Munro, centre-back, again from ICT after they released him. Although Flynn and Boyd were established centre-backs already, Munro has an abundance of experience and showed his class in recent friendlies. Although he is around six foot tall, which is not particularly big for a centre-back, Munro has a strong build and has always been an aerial threat at set-pieces.
- Russell Duncan, central midfielder, is another veteran from ICT who like Munro has won the First Division twice. He is an aggressive defensive midfielder with good positional sense.
- Rocco Quinn, creative midfielder, from Queen of the South. He is almost like a right-footed version of Iain Vigurs: classy, good technique and has an eye for a pass, but can occasionally appear too casual. His passing and crossing attributes will most likely make him compete with Richard Brittain for the right side of a central midfield, or on the right side of a 4-4-2 diamond formation.
- Colin McMenamin, forward, is also from Queens. He has top-scored in the First Division for Gretna and was close to a goal every other game for Queens from January 2010. He is big enough to trouble defenders, but he also has a dependable technique for this level. A lot of County’s success will appear to depend on how many goals he can score.
- Sam Morrow, forward, from Tranmere. From initial impressions he appears to be a work-horse similar to Garry Wood.
- Kurtis Byrne, forward, was also a Hibs player but spent some time out on loan to lower level clubs. He looks a good finisher and quick enough to get beyond the defensive line, but Adams himself stated that Byrne has to add more to his general game.
The full squad can be found on the official Ross County website here.
Expected line-ups and formations
So what do all of these signings mean to Derek Adams’s first-choice eleven?
Firstly, it should be suggested that there is no ‘first-choice’, on the basis that Adams typically chooses what he thinks is the correct team in the first instance and will then change after an unfavourable result (subject of course to injuries, suspensions and exceptionally bad individual performances).
Secondly, the squad is so big, and particularly competitive in midfield and forward positions, that it is difficult to predict exactly what Derek Adams has in mind.
Having said that, it would be a waste of 1400 words if we didn’t make some sort of spurious attempt.
How County might have looked with the retained squad, excluding the new signings
The diagram above is close to last season’s ‘best XI’, which finished in 8th position, but which really ought to have done better. The diagram does illustrate how strong County can be on their day, even if there would not have been much strength in depth to the squad.
The second kit was not necessarily meant to be in yellow and white, but it at least helps contrast the starting/defensive formation with the more organic natural attacking positions.
This is the site’s attempt at a best XI. Feel free to point and laugh. It is harsh on a number of players who are left out, including the captain Brittain (who might have been in instead of Quinn) and at some point vice-captain Boyd (replaced by Flynn).
The tactical pattern from last season is still apparent to an extent, with the full-backs getting forward, Vigurs tucking in and Gardyne playing off a number 9 striker.
The diagram above illustrates a 4-4-2 diamond, which again contains a narrow midfield, with Lawson dropping out, but with McMenamin forming a partnership with Craig and Gardyne dropping a little more deep than usual. Width is still expected from the full-backs, but both ‘wide’ midfielders (or carilleros as they are called in Argentina, where the formation has been most widely used) being asked to help in wide positions.
One of the common themes here is the inclusion of Gardyne, who was a must-pick under Adams during his first reign as manager. Gardyne will no longer be guaranteed a place behind the main striker, with creative players like Vigurs and Quinn possibly doing a similar – if not identical – job.
However, without a creative player off the forward(s), County might find it difficult gaining territory in the final third of the pitch. Gardyne (and whoever else in his place) has a key role in linking midfield and attack.
Without a linking player, the obvious solution would be to use the flanks more prominently. However, the only natural winger in the whole squad is Corcoran, who although looks decent in spurts often fails to make an impact over 90 minutes. The right midfield spot could be given to Quinn, an excellent crosser of the ball, but he does not have the raw pace to beat the average left-back and get a cross from the bye-line.
In light of those comments, it is likely that a loose 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 formation will be most commonly used, with plan B being the extra forward in a 4-4-2 diamond.
- The lack of serious pace on the wings and up front, means that County might struggle against some of the better teams in the division who are happy to play a high defensive line.
- The squad appears bloated around the middle. The number of central midfielders and centre-forwards seems excessive for a 40-45 match season, but all the players might well be called upon to feature.
- There might be a temptation to rotate the squad for the sake of keeping most players happy, but Adams must keep that thought balanced with some element of consistency in team selection. This site believes adjusting the team to capitalise on the opposition’s weaknesses is more often than not advantageous, so perhaps there is scope for having a number of different style of player to suit the playing conditions.
Part Two of the preview will look at the players and formations likely to be used against Ross County in the league in the coming season. Stay tuned and/or keep an eye on your RSS feed.