Last Tuesday, taking in what was Ross County’s final game in the Premiership, the sun was just about to set behind Ben Wyvis as Simon Murray put Dundee ahead in a game that would end up being a draw. I thought at the time it was a fitting metaphor for our Premiership days being numbered, and here five days on it’s sadly proved to be so.
Ross County’s six-year stint in the Premiership is over, and it’s a perfect time to take stock of why we’ve finished bottom of the league and where we can improve for next year.
Over the course of the season the main problem has seemed to be a lack of desire in the team. The players didn’t seem to grasp the urgency or the concentration to stick in games, even given the dire straits we’ve been in for the vast majority of the year. This has meant that far too often we dropped points in games where we should have done better, with games against Rangers, Hibs and Kilmarnock at home all springing to mind.
We’ve also struggled for quality in a lot of areas of the park. Losing Liam Boyce as our main goalscorer over the summer was always going to be a big challenge, but we not only did we struggle to match his goal tally for last year, but also struggled to create enough chances. Our midfield wasn’t positive or dynamic enough to create the opportunities for the likes of Alex Schalk and Craig Curran to convert.
Our defending has also ultimately been poor, and despite good performances from Jason Naismith throughout, the defensive players we’ve had have been far too inconsistent. Even Scott Fox, who was for a time last season one of the best keepers in the league, has been a little off the boil this campaign.
Our recruitment this year, under Jim McIntyre and under Owen Coyle, was poor and we didn’t strengthen nearly enough in areas where we lacked – even though you could see early on that this year was going to be a more difficult one with the quality being added to teams around us. We brought in three former Inverness CT players despite the knowledge that these three were all in a team not good enough to stay in the division, which shows the shortsightedness of out managerial scouting abilities.
This year, in some senses, has been the comeuppance for our failure to construct a solid core of the team almost throughout our time in the Premiership, relying too often on players at the club on loan or short-term contracts. This has given our managers the task of rebuilding the team almost on an annual basis, which isn’t enough to base long-term plans on.
Having three management teams in one season is probably a perfect example of that, with the board seemingly unable to look further ahead than what’s in front of them. Rather than simply trying to tread water the whole time while we were in the Premiership, there should have been more work around the club to set up the first team as a more stable unit and look and staying there long-term. We’ve got a tremendous academy, but the planning and fore-thought, and even the players, from that never transitioned to the main squad.
Roy McGregor and co. have done tremendous things for County over the years, so I believe they can take a look at things and help put in place the changes we need. McGregor himself has spoken often of the need to improve the experience around the club, so those changes would be welcome as well in sparking some life into a sometimes too quiet fanbase.
But in saying that, I think now would be the time for a fresh face at the uppermost levels of the club, such as a new Director of Football. This would allow us to bring in the talent we need to the club, in terms of players and coaches, and make sure that we’re doing more than building a team, but a squad of players that can do the job for us for several seasons.
While financially the drop into the Championship will really hurt the club, I’m hoping that there can be some positives too. Saturday 3pm games, an extra cup competition, and, of course, four Highland derbies will bring more excitement than we’ve had this year. I’ve confidence that the team Kettlewell & Ferguson put together will play better football than this season, which again will make things far better to watch as a fan.
So all-in-all, it’s as bad a season as Ross County have had in a decade, but there’s reason to look back with fondness at the incredible stint we’ve had at Scottish football’s highest level.
When I was young, going week-in week-out to watch us in the First and Second Divisions, it was always a dream that we’d one day play in the SPL or win trophies. Beating Celtic at Hampden in 2010 on the way to the Scottish Cup Final is still the best football game I’ve ever watched. Winning the First Division in 2012, and subsequently reaching the top six the season after, brought two of the best years of football I’ve ever watched. Winning the League Cup in 2016 was another highlight that I’ll never forget.
For a team from a small town in the Highlands to achieve all of that is remarkable, and that perspective is important in what is a difficult time for the club and our fans.
It’s far too early to tell what things will be like at Victoria Park next year, but although it’s been a bad season, I think the sun will shine over us again and we’ll be in touching distance of the Premiership again and some point.