After the highs of 2012-2013 when the Staggies stormed to a top-six finish following promotion, challenging for the European positions, they were brought back down to terra firma with a bump. A number of key players left, such as Iain Vigurs, Paul Lawson, Evangelos Oikonomou, while Derek Adams channelled the spirit of Jimmy Calderwood and delved into the Dutch market for players. One of them, Darren Maatsen, thundered in a third minute opener at Celtic Park on the opening day to suggest that Ross County’s debut season in the SPL wasn’t an anomaly. However, they fell to a 2-1 defeat and the disappointment set the tone for the season.
Three wins from their first 18 games meant there was only going to be one thing that preoccupied County and that was staying out of the relegation play-off spot. Adams had held onto Richie Brittain and his influence would prove essential as the team struggled to find the back of the net. Kevin Luckassen was hapless up front but another Dutch signing Melvin de Leeuw took some of the responsibility from Brittain. de Leeuw would end the season with nine league goals and prove to be one of the better signings in the league.
Adams managed to arrest the slump after the transfer window, bringing Oikonomou back to the club as well as a pair of mobile strikers and securing a coup in recruiting Filip Kiss from Cardff City. There would be a resurgence in January and then again at the end of the season where three wins after the split lifted the club to a hardly believable seventh place finish.
Once again it has been a busy transfer window at the Global Energy Stadium (Ugh). No fewer than 11 new faces have arrived at the club, with a range of nationalities making Dingwall the multi-cultural epicentre of the world; Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovenia, France and Slovakia are all represented.
And once again it is a bit of the unknown when trying to determine how well Adams has signed. Tim Dreesen, Uros Celcer and Rosario Latouchent, names that even the greatest of football buffs would not know. Type their names into the finest scouting database – YouTube – and it will only be the former two who have videos. The latter is a mystery of all mysteries. Yet they have acquired Kiss and Graham Carey again, both have proven themselves to be solid top flight players. Antonio Reguero is an excellent addition to challenge and eventually supplant Mark Brown between the sticks. Jake Jervis is your typical journeyman lower league forward in England, while Joe Cardle should be a useful, if erratic, addition to the squad.
As for the departures the Staggies have not suffered to the extent they did last season. In fact it has been a positive, shedding themselves of Gary Glen, Ben Gordon and probably best of all Brian McLean. DINGWALL REJOICE. Although on a sad note Yann Songo’o will be a big miss in the centre of defence and Oikonomou departed for the second time. But don’t worry County fans, he’ll will be back. As Craig Fowler said on Monday’s show, it is like a couple who constantly break up but just keeping going back to one another. Marriage made in heaven.
After the club’s debut season in the SPL, Adams came in for an avalanche of praise. His tactical workings proved effective, making County one of the more interesting teams to watch. But last season Adams seemed to want to evolve the team for evolution’s sake. The 4-1-4-1 which had worked so well was replaced with a back five. With Lawson signing for Motherwell Adams must have felt they could no longer play that way or he deemed none of his players or signings could carry out the job as well as Lawson had. The back five was a disaster. Not only did Ross County struggle to penetrate opposition defences they were porous at the back despite the presence of so many defenders.
Credit should go to Adams for realising it wasn’t working but it took him a while to devise an eleven or system to get the Staggies back on even keel. His third season will help determine just how good a top-flight manager Adams is, although he will forever ride high in the County pantheon having taking them to such heights. It will also be interesting to see if he has calmed with the former Motherwell midfielder a controversial figure on the sidelines to the extent that Jamie Hamill made his feelings clear with a body check in the funniest moment of last season.
The easiest player to pick as Ross County’s key man is captain Richie Brittain, who after a flirtation with St Johnstone which turned into a serious relationship before Brittain broke it off, seems at home in Dingwall. He is the club’s talisman from midfield with his ability to play in a number of positions. Combative without the ball and tidy when in possession, Brittain has the ability to make Ross County tick, while also chipping in with the odd goal – 16 in two top level seasons is a fine record. He can be a driving force and will likely take on that role once again.
Also a mention to Scott Boyd, who after two seasons playing alongside Grant Munro and McLean, will likely be the leader of a defence which shipped 62 goals in the league last season. If he can develop a partnership with one of the new signings he will be able to demonstrate the qualities he possesses to be a solid Premiership centre back.
Will a striker FINALLY emerge at Ross County?
Gary Glen, Sam Morrow, Kevin Luckassen, Colin McMenamin, Steffen Wohlfarth, Jordan Slew, Orhan Mustafi. Thousands of minutes between them, so few goals. County have a knack for fielding strikers who fail to comprehend that the space between the white posts is what they are aiming for. Adams has looked to address the situation with the signings of the aforementioned Jervis and Liam Boyce. The former, at the age of 22, has racked up 10 clubs already and bettered that number by seven in terms of league goals. At around 6ft 4in he will more likely be awkward than dangerous for opposition defences.
Boyce served time at Werder Bremen in his younger years, while he has also had a trial at Celtic in recent years. He returned to his native Northern Ireland where he has been prolific. Still only 23 years of age he is the most likely to find the back of the net regularly.
Adams will still be looking for Kiss to have a similar impact he did when he first arrived in the north. If he does then there is every chance he can hit double figures from midfield. As already stated Brittain will do his bit from midfield, and de Leeuw, with a season under his belt, has the talent to play a leading role, both in the goal scoring and creativity departments.
Consolidation in the Premiership was a good season for Ross County on paper, as was a seventh place finish. But County fans will have been disappointed with a number of the results and many of the performances. This season they appear to have a more balanced squad with a number of competent and key individuals throughout the spine of the team.
Like many of the teams in the division, a lot will depend on how well some of the unknown signings settle in Scottish football. Ross County will hope that those they signed last year will have a greater impact. Another year of consolidation will be deemed a fine season but with the way the squad has shaped up, including the acquisition of Kiss and the potential in Boyce, it won’t be a surprise to see County pushing for their second top six finish.
Finish: 9th Place