Sunday, 7 December 2014

County Still Searching For Defensive Combination

When Jim McIntyre took over as manager in Dingwall, he inherited a side bottom of the table with zero points, level with St Mirren, and a goal difference of -11. Ten league matches later the side have amassed 8 points, the same as St Mirren, and have seen their goal difference dip to -19.

It must be noted that the Ross County squad under McIntyre’s predecessor had swelled to ridiculous proportions and he, therefore, cane be afforded time to sift through his options. Matters were made even worse when another 3 players were added on transfer deadline day, shortly before McIntyre's appointment - although he has frequently used all 3 – before he added a further 5 of his own.

Ross County were deficient at both ends of the park early in the season and these problems have continued under the reign of McIntyre. The goals from Yoann Arquin and Darren Maatsen in the defeat to Dundee United on Friday night were the 5th and 6th league goals - of their 15 this season - that has failed to alter the outcome of the match.

The Staggies have only taken the lead in just 4 of their league matches this season and have also failed to take the lead in three cup outings. More often than not, they have found themselves further behind before finding the net – if they do at all - rendering many of their goals meaningless in terms of points accumulated.

If your team has only managed 6 first half goals in the league so far – with 3 of those coming in a 3-0 victory - then ideally your defence should be resolute, allowing the few goals you can muster the chance of being converted into points.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Ross County have conceded the first goal in 11 of their league matches, have conceded a total of 34 goals – and average of 2.27 per game – and have only managed one clean sheet in 18 matches across all competitions.

This is partially down to a lack of quality in their squad - County have limited resources and can only afford a certain level of player - but is also partially a consequence of the many combinations they fielded in a perpetually unsettled back four. Paul Quinn - signed by McIntyre shortly after taking over – may have performed admirably so far in a backline devoid of confidence, but his pairing with Lewis Toshney on Friday night was the club’s 10th different central-defensive partnership this season† .

Before then Scott Boyd had partnered Timothy Dressen, Jordi Balk, Ben Frempah, Darren Barr and Paul Quinn, while Frempah had previously lined up alongside Dressen, Jackson Irvine, Paul Quinn and Darren Barr (albeit for 4 minutes towards the end of their match versus Aberdeen) before Toshney and Quinn were selected for the defeat to Dundee United.

And while we can blame Derek Adams more than McIntyre for County’s scattergun approach to recruitment this season, McIntyre has been responsible for testing 9 of these 10 partnerships in the centre of defence.

The situation at full-back has hardly been much better. Toshney, Barr, Balk, Richie Brittain and Jim Fenlon have all been used on the right this season, while Barr, Fenlon, Graham Carey, Uros Celcer and Jamie Reckord have been tried at left-back*.

Three of the defenders signed in the summer – Dressen, Balk and Celcer – have already agreed to cancel their contracts, suggesting that a more meticulous transfer policy in the summer no doubt would have benefited the club. Rather than having 14 defenders on the wage bill at one point this season, they surely could have veered more towards quality over quantity before it got to that stage.

A similar argument can be made about the goalkeepers. Last season Kilmarnock were guilty of spending part of their budget on two first-team goalkeepers and have now released one and gone with young Conor Brennan as back-up instead. This allows them to use much needed funds to recruit for other positons.

The man Kilmarnock released, Antonio Reguero, initially made his way to Victoria Park to provide competition for Mark Brown. After a short, uninspiring run in the side, Reguero was dropped and hasn’t appeared since. And while Brown has, in the past, been known as a steady pair of hands at Premiership level, he has looked increasingly bereft of confidence as the weeks have progressed, culminating in Friday’s performance.

Jim McIntyre may be some distance off the squad and starting line-up he desires, but he surely now has to work on establishing some continuity  with his first XI, especially in defence, and must only bring in players during the next transfer window that improve the starting line-up, rather than bulk up an already overweight squad.

† Ross County central-defensive partnerships this season:
Boyd-Dressen x3
Balk-Boyd x3
Frempah-Boyd x3
Barr-Frempah (for last 4 minutes of Aberdeen match)
Boyd-Quinn x5

*Defenders who have played for Ross County this season (appearances in brackets):
- Scott Boyd (13), Darren Barr (6 overall, 4 in defence), Ben Frempah (6), Jim Fenlon (4), Lewis Toshney (7), Paul Quinn (6), Jamie Reckord (3),  Graham Carey (13 overall, 5 in defence), Uros Celcer (5), Timothy Dressen (3), Jordi Balk (4), Richie Brittain (13 overall, 3 in defence) 

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