The return to Ross County of the man responsible for their finest hour to date – a Scottish Cup Final appearance in 2010 – was like the second coming at Victoria Park. The faithful had endured a nine game run under Willie McStay that was not fulfilling for anyone. They saw Jimmy Calderwood rescue the club from relegation to the Second Division and then be unable to agree terms for a continued relationship. It meant Derek would be back working for the Ross County Director of Football George Adams – his father.
When Derek Adams left County to go as number two at Hibernian there was a lot of chatter. Why would a coach with such success at his own club, being his own man agree to come and join what many already were predicting as the Titanic doomed stewardship of Colin Calderwood? Adams himself has now confirmed that he does not see himself as a number two and will not return to being an assistant. Why he went will remain conjecture for some but it clearly was a learning curve. The beneficiaries are Ross County.
If his return was greeted with joy he brought a stuttering start to the new season as Ross County were in a very tight league that saw games played between highly competitive teams able to take points off each other. It made for more draws than wins than he would have hoped for. The key statistic was, however, that County did not register many losses. In fact, in the league, heading towards the beginning of January County have lost just 1 game. That was a 5-1 defeat at Hamilton that seems a far distant memory now for both clubs.
Now on a 15 game unbeaten run and sitting pretty on top of the league with a 3 point cushion and two games in hand, Ross County are looking upwards towards the golden dawn of SPL football. It would truly be remarkable if two former Highland League entities were playing in the highest league in the land having waltzed past the rest of the more established members of the Scottish Football Association. The Club Chairman has already outlined the plans for the Dingwall club to meet the SPL criteria during the close season if Derek Adams makes it. They are a club with a forward thinking vision having brought X Factor finalists JLS to the club in the summer for a concert that will have swelled the coffers. George Adams, someone who helped get Motherwell out of administration, would certainly be someone who would have had a hand in this type of enterprise somewhere – even if it was just to encourage rather than learn all the dances.
As for the playing staff it is widely rumoured that Adams has the biggest budget in the league and many point to the remoteness of Dingwall being a reason why they think so allied with the experienced squad assembled. If you wish to attract big names being in the Central Belt nearer to the amenities and advantages normally associated with being a footballer is a significant advantage.
Such thoughts and arguments do not take into account the clear selling job Adams does along with his father and the rest of the club on players who are looking for success. Success comes to Adams and Ross County like the perfect blend of whiskey. It’s smooth and earthy and the look from the towers of Victoria Park is warm and comforting.
The first thing Adams would have been forgiven for doing to the squad he inherited was dismantle it. Thing is it was virtually the squad he had left so many of the faces were ones that he had brought in already. Adams brought only five players into the club to augment those that were willing to stay on and be part of his new/old team. If Willie McStay couldn’t get them playing and Jimmy Calderwood was only able to get them to escape relegation some change though was clearly needed.
In nets came Michael Fraser who was convinced to swap the sand and sun of Malta for erm… the exact opposite in Dingwall? Probably not quite as flippant as that but Fraser has held three clean sheets this season which is perhaps not the return you would expect from your keeper but fortunately at the other end scoring has not been an issue. His back up – Joe Malin – has been with the club since 2005 and been understudy to no less than five first choice keepers.
The defence was judged almost good enough and with the likes of the ginger Pele – Scott Boyd, Gary Miller, Scott Morrison and Jonathon Flynn there are enough international caps at one level or another to inspire some confidence. Flynn has found his seat on the bench of late but the addition of Grant Munro cannot be discounted. Munro has kept Northern Irish internationalist Flynn out of the team due to his highly influential style of play and highly regarded performances.
In midfield Adams already had vast experience in Stuart Kettlewell, Paul Lawson, Iain Vigurs, Mark Corcoran, Marc Fitzpatrick and Richard Brittain. Between them they could boast no fewer than five current SPL clubs amongst them as previous employers. They have collected no fewer than thirteen ex clubs between them from the First Division and the SPL. Adams added Rocco Quinn and Russell Duncan with even more SPL experience. Add to that the young Alex Cooper who came back from being with Liverpool and on paper at least this is an impressive squad.
Up front he had even more experience in Sam Morrow, Michael Gardyne and Steven Craig. Gardyne leads the goal scoring charts at eight along with new face Colin McMenamin. A fearsome front line along with another new signing in Kurtis Byrne makes tiresome reading for the opposition as we know they can score goals aplenty.
It is difficult to spot where Adams has weaknesses in his squad for this division or where youth will play a part. There is a ton of experience in this side which, if it doesn’t deliver the title this year will have to answer some very awkward questions. Adams may not be in fear of his job at any point but you have to look over the list of experience that comes out of Victoria Park each week and wonder what they have the rest of the division don’t.