Entering the bottom six competition, I wasn’t totally confident in County avoiding the relegation play-off spot. We had, and still do at the end of the season, the worst record against bottom six sides of anyone in the league and the fixtures dealt to us were tough on paper. But all credit to Derek Adams and the players for showing the grit and determination to get through. Our wins against Killie and Hibs might not have been the prettiest or most convincing, but we did exactly what we needed to in two crucial games at Victoria Park. Richard Brittain’s penalty in the winner-stays-up clash against Hibs showed why he’s our captain, with a finish as cool as ice in what was perhaps the greatest pressure our team had faced in years. Another season in the Premiership is more than deserved in the end for our efforts in the last few months.
Away from the league, I’m afraid that our efforts in the cup competitions this season were very poor, with the unhealthy statistic of not winning a cup game in over 2 years being rather hard to swallow after our major successes only a few seasons ago. Being dumped out of the Scottish Cup at home to Terry Butcher’s Hibs, our first ever defeat to them, in a lacklustre game where they were a man down for the last 20 minutes was bad enough but can’t compare to our humbling against Stranraer in the League Cup. There we lost 3-2 against a League One side who were sitting in 8th position and whose home support amounted to just over 200 fans. We even took the lead through a Richie Brittain penalty but couldn’t hold on. Yet again Ross County have failed in the cup competitions, whilst our rivals from over the bridge had arguably their finest ever season in both cups. A good cup run would be appreciated next year, as it gives a certain sort of excitement that league football just can’t match.
Although it has to be said that this season was largely negative in terms of results, when you look at what Ross County have achieved in relative terms, 7th place in the Premiership is still a fantastic achievement from everyone at the club. With the smallest fan base in the league and a humble budget, it’s nothing short of magical that we have not only reached the promised land of the Premiership in the first place but held our own yet and beaten teams such as Hibs, Kilmarnock and Hearts again. After next season we will certainly be classed as an established side in the division, something that I would have passed off as a pipe dream just a few years ago. This year hasn’t quite been as straightforward and glamorously successful but neither I, the club or any of the fans would trade it for anything.
My player of the season this year is Melvin De Leeuw. Arriving in the summer as part of a Dutch quartet, he was the only one of the four to stamp his mark on the team. He’s been a real shining light for County, with 9 league goals making him our top scorer, and his assists from the wing making him probably our most valuable player. With another year on his contract, at least, I hope that De Leeuw sticks with us for a while longer and hopefully helps us to further success.
Looking ahead, it’s clear that the squad is once again going to be overhauled again for the start of the next campaign. We’re going to lose our many loan signings: Yann Songo’o, Erik Cikos, Michael Tidser and Jordan Slew – and all have put in good performances for the County jersey especially during their first months at the club so that’s an issue. Filip Kiss will return to Cardiff at the end of the season, although he hasn’t ruled out a return. Kiss and Cikos will be especially big misses, leaving gaps in the team that will be hard to fill. We’re still unsure over the future of Evangelos Ikonomou, who may or may not choose to stay with County for next season and would be a big blow to lose again. Hopefully the manager will have a big enough budget to buy in a few quality players. Yoann Arquin looks good up front, but without anyone to play in and around him with Jordan Slew gone we might to look for another option. We’ve never really replaced Iain Vigurs in terms of getting a player who can get to the bye-line and put in crosses or dart into the box, so hopefully we’ll see another winger at the club to team up with De Leeuw and give us a strong attacking threat again.
Derek Adams’ future with the club seemed uncertain a few weeks ago, with the threat of relegation looming and rumours circulating about his second spell as Ross County manager coming to an end. After Saturday’s match at Partick, though, he announced that he plans to stay at the club. With our 7th placed finish, I would be surprised if Roy McGregor sacked Adams, and likely his father George along with him, but I can’t help but feel it might be time for a change soon. Derek Adams is without a doubt the best manager we have ever had, and I would never diminish the fantastic achievements he has accomplished with us, but I fear that there is little room for Adams to improve the side with his recent approach to tactics and signings. I want what’s best for Ross County, and will heartily support Adams if he stays in charge, but I can’t help but feel that we need a fresh new look at the club and that Derek Adams might not be the man to bring that.
What this summer and next season will bring, I have absolutely no idea. I’m just hoping that County can succeed again in staying in the Premiership. A cup run or another stint in the top six would definitely be brilliant, but I think I’d happily settle for safety again. And maybe just finish above that team from Inverness. That wouldn’t be too bad for a wee team such us at all.