Derek Adams’ reign at the helm of Ross County came to an end today, as he and his father George (the Director of Football at the club) were sacked.
As sad as it is to see the man who is surely the club’s most successful manager in history leave, I think it’s the right decision and I’m glad that chairman Roy McGregor has made the tough call to part ways.
When it comes to football clubs, the main concern has to be success on the pitch as that translates into success off the pitch in terms of increased revenues. Ross County have stagnated over the last year or so, and although we are still punching well above our weight by any means, it’s become clear to fans and now the chairman that we need to go in a different direction to continue our success.
Derek Adams has coached Ross County to our finest hours in football. Taking charge in the Second Division as a player-manager after the ignominy of Dick Campbell’s management, Adams steered us to a comfortable win and a return to the First Division where we had been for the majority of our time in senior football. Although it appeared easy at times, there is no doubt that the job that Derek Adams did in winning the league was impressive, especially in his first coaching role, and even crucial for the club’s survival. Without bouncing straight back into the First Division, Ross County would have certainly had to become a part-time club – slashing its playing budget and cutting back its’ considerable community programme to stay afloat. This was the time when Save Our Staggies was launched and played a role in financing the club. Even if they had run a longer campaign, I doubt that Save Our Staggies would have managed to finance a long-term stay in the Second Division without the club folding on or off the pitch.
Adams then went on to achieve not only the biggest achievement of our club’s history but perhaps the most impressive performance for a club of our size in recent Scottish football history. Our Scottish Cup run of 2009-10 is now club legend, brushing aside the minnows of Stirling Albion and Whitehill Welfare before going on to become giant-killers. We beat Hibs in a replay at Victoria Park on a memorable Tuesday night where Scott Boyd rose majestically in the box to net the winner with seconds to go before extra time. Then came the 10th of April, where Ross County and a travelling support of 7,000 went to Glasgow to face Celtic, one of the giants of the game, in the semi-final. And typically of Adams’ style at the time Ross County weren’t phased in the slightest, playing brilliant passing football and playing Celtic off the park. We were rewarded with two memorable goals as Stevie Craig ran half the length of the pitch before popping the ball home on 56 minutes and then, after an agonising half-hour of Celtic pressure, Andy Barrowman raced down the wing before sending in a ball to Jimmy Scott who bundled home and sent us into raptures. The final might not have been as good, but for Ross County – a team from a small town in the Highlands – to have reached the nation’s showpiece game showed the tremendous efforts of the players and the manager. We even challenged for the league that year until our Scottish Cup run took priority and our form started to slip.
But any faint disappointment of not winning the league was duly dispatched two seasons later as we won the First Division at a canter to gain promotion to the SPL. We didn’t start well, we rarely do, but we played fantastic football all season as Paul Lawson and Richard Brittain pulled the strings in midfield and our side passed the ball beautifully. Colin McMenamin was the striker we needed, putting the ball past the keeper more often than not and getting us the goals that won us games. The defensive dream team of Scott Boyd and Grant Munro kept things tight at the back so that we were unbeatable. And we were unbeatable, not losing a league game between August 2011 and September 2012 – an incredible feat regardless of which league you are playing in. Derek Adams’ style of management had worked again, and now we had a crack at the big time.
And we even did well in our first Premier League season, with a tremendous run to the top six after we kept the bulk of our squad and continued to play the attractive, passing style of football we had become known for. There was a slow start as Adams experimented with a more cautious but direct style, but after he eventually reneged on that we kicked on and improved.
It’s Adams’ return to that style of football that has seen County’s fortunes fade and seen him lose his job. Last season was by no means a great season, despite a deceivingly high finish of 7th. Waiting until three days before the end of the season to secure safety was a nerve-wracking experience, and in the end we were only saved by Adams’ panic-loaning players in January that managed to play well for just long enough to stay on.
Last season Ross County did not play good football, and it’s not the players to blame for that. They were instructed to sit further back and to play more direct football. Adams insisted for most of the season to play with a lone striker, and while we couldn’t find a player that could play the role effectively we struggled to score goals and suffered many defeats by a single goal because other sides took their chances better.
This season has been very poor so far, with only a solitary win against Stranraer to our credit – and even that was by one goal. It’s not the players to blame. Although the feared summer exodus did happen, many of those players actually came back – and the side has a good backbone to it that could succeed. Adams hasn’t played the right style of football, yet again, this year to get the most out of his side – and that is the problem. His new signings have not been outstanding, with only Melvin De Leeuw and Filip Kiss having really made an impression so far. New strikers Liam Boyce and Jake Jervis are showing promise, but I don’t think sticking them up front alone hasn’t helped their efforts. County need a new playing style to get their season up and running.
It’s also worth noting that rumours have been abound since last season that players have been discontented at the club because of Adams’ management style. Former players, including recently departed goalkeeper Michael Fraser, have voiced their opinions on Adams’ sacking today with almost a sense of joy – and I feel that it’s probably the tip of the iceberg. The players weren’t coping with Adams’ playing style, but I don’t think the situation was helped with the apparent bad blood off the field.
Who’ll replace Adams is a very difficult question. The bookmakers’ favourite is former St. Mirren boss Danny Lennon, but his record at St Mirren was hardly exemplary and seeing him run the line at Victoria Park doesn’t quite fit for me. Equally frightening is the idea that former Caley boss Terry Butcher will take over, after his disastrous six-month spiral with Hibs and almost four years at our arch-rivals taking every opportunity to goad our fans. My personal favourite at the moment would be Gary Locke, who did great things with a weak Hearts side last year. He’s got talent, and taking over at another Premiership team would really boost his CV. We’re not going to get a manager who cares about the club itself as much as Derek Adams this time, or indeed for a long time, but we’ll hopefully get one who can get the best out of the group of players at hand – and one that can turn this season around.
Derek Adams will forever be a legend at Ross County, as he has stuck with the club through thick and thin. For what it’s worth, I’d like to thank him for providing me with some of my best footballing memories and for establishing County as a top-tier side. But nothing lasts forever, and it’s time to move on to hopefully greener pastures. The future’s uncertain, but I hope that now Ross County has the chance to appoint a manager who can take us on to a new age of success.