I’m delighted to say that Ross County’s season is over. Not because I haven’t enjoyed it, but because it means that we have avoided the grim spectre of the play-offs. Second season syndrome hit Ross County hard this year – with our sophomore campaign in Scotland’s top flight being far less euphoric than the one before. However, when our aim as a football club is just to stay there with the big boys, I think we can be happy and proud of what our small-town team has achieved yet again.
After two unbelievable seasons on the trot: seeing ourselves promoted to (what was) the SPL and then making it to 5th place in the league, it is perhaps understandable that things didn’t quite go as well this year as last. Apart from qualifying for Europe there was no real way of improving.
Our start to the season was poor this year, and was hampered with Derek Adams’ signings last summer being nowhere near as effective as the club and the fans hoped. Our foray into the Dutch leagues left us with only one true squad player in Melvin De Leeuw. Kevin Luckassen, after a disappointing spell in the team, was sold to Slovan Liberec in January while Marc Klok and Darren Maatsen have made little impact on the first team since their arrival. Hopefully they can improve and challenge for positions, as they are young players with plenty of potential that can only be realised with time on the pitch. With little in the way of strong signings, and a few key players leaving us last summer, it took us some time to find a starting 11 that was worthy of the competition.
Sadly this was coupled with some very questionable tactics being handed down from the manager, with our team playing some of our worst football for some time despite having players that are more than capable of better. The fast, fluid passing style that has been the key to our achievements under Adams has been tossed aside again in favour of a more direct and ultimately unsuccessful approach. We did lose two of our best passing players in the summer when Iain Vigurs and Paul Lawson left for Motherwell, but there’s no reason why our replacements couldn’t step in and do the same. Richard Brittain, after a difficult summer, hasn’t quite been the player he once was but has certainly not been helped by Adams’ decision to play him on the right of the pitch when he is a natural central midfielder. For starters he lacks the pace to attack the wing with any real conviction, but also Brittain tends to sucked in to the middle of the park on both offence and defence, leaving our attacks one-sided and one-dimensional and our right-back exposed. It’s little wonder that Mihael Kovacevic didn’t appear as steadfast in his first few months this season when his workload was essentially doubled.
For the first few months of the season Adams had us playing a 4-5-1, which resulted in our main game plan being to win the ball and hoof it up the park to either Kevin Luckassen or Orhan Mustafi up front – with neither really being able to cope with the pressure of going up against four defenders on their own. Our defence wasn’t even solid enough to justify this tactic, shipping goals for fun in the first few games because we played such a high line. Our usual rock-solid centre back pairing of Scott Boyd and Grant Munro were obviously not in tune with Adams’ new tack, and so the trademark of the goals scored against us in the opening games of the campaign was of our defenders running back towards goal with their hands in the air pleading in vain for an offside decision. Although Munro left the club and was replaced by Brian MacLean, our defensive frailties have cost us dear in some games this season.
Adams finally relented and played two up front in the New Years’ Day clash against Caley Thistle, and we won. January saw us playing our best football of the season, and it was thanks to the pairing of Jordan Slew and Yoann Arquin that we managed that. We fell away from there a bit, with Adams experimenting a little again, but we still played better football in the last few months than we did in August and September. We started scoring goals again and getting draws rather than defeats. That’s what kept us up in the end.