Once again we’ve reached the end of the football season, and even though the pain of Scotland’s failure to reach Euro 2016 will echo through much of the upcoming months it’s been softened greatly by the fact that Ross County have had one of their best seasons ever.
Ross County have cemented themselves as a top flight club and done so in some style by storming to their second top-six finish in their four year stint in the Premiership and of course winning their first ever Scottish League Cup after a run that included beating rivals Caley Thistle, the giants of Celtic and Hibs on their way to doing so. As a fan of a small team from the Highlands, it pretty much doesn’t get any better.
What’s made the difference this year is that we’ve had a core group of players who’ve played week-in week-out and performed consistently well throughout. My player of the season would be Jackson Irvine, who has embodied a spirit of flair and toughness in the centre of midfield and has proved the anchor to our attacking efforts this year. Closely following him would be Michael Gardyne, who’s been fantastic on the wing at stretching defences and making space for our strikers to operate and get goals. Speaking of goals, Liam Boyce has once again proven the talent he possesses by netting 14 goals in the league this season, putting him sixth in the top scorers table. He’s more than earned his place with Northern Ireland at Euro 2016 this year, and hopefully will return to us next season to further his growing reputation.
We’ve been a great side for most of this season, but for me even though this is maybe the best County side of all-time and certainly one of the most successful there’s still room for improvement.
The main thorn in our side this year has been in defence, where we’ve suffered from inconsistency and general poor play which has cost us many goals and several wins too. County have the 2nd worst defensive record in the league, not too far behind bottom placed Dundee United. This is in spite of actually having some solid defensive players in Andrew Davies, who has taken the captaincy role and done fantastically well with it, and Ricky Foster, who has also provided an attacking threat that we’ve been lacking for a while from our wing-backs. Our inability to make challenges and to close down players though means that often we’ve conceded goals when we should be making it more difficult for opponents to score, and it’s something we’ll need to vastly improve on next year.
We’ve also gone downhill quickly since our days of glory at Hampden with a style of play that’s been poor to watch as we try to soak up pressure from other teams but do so ineffectively. We’ve been at our best this season when we’ve taken the game to other teams and tried to attack them, as with our combination of a great strikeforce and midfielders who can get forward with ease we’re able to overwhelm opponents – so I’m not sure why Jim McIntyre’s been setting up our team this way. Our results since winning the League have been generally pretty poor, with our solitary win being just enough to see us scrape into the top six after briefly dropping out of it for the first time just a week before the split. We’ll need to play better than we are at the minute if we’re to sustain or even improve upon this year’s efforts, so hopefully we’ll see a return to form after the summer break.
Looking ahead, it’s nice to see that manager Jim McIntyre has already signalled that there will be little changes in terms of personnel over the summer – as we seek to avoid yet another transfer window overhaul that leaves us with a completely different team going into the new season. This should hopefully mean that we can get off to a good start and get some points on the board early to set up another tilt at a top six place, and also make a good defence of the League Cup which will start in July and end in November.