There was, it must be said, an additional couple of spoonfuls of curry powder thrown into the mixing pot as Ross County took on Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the ﬁnal game of the season. There was the issue of Europe. Yes, the Highland derby did, in fact alter the European placings. How bizarre to write that, but yet, how delicious. Ross County’s victory – thoroughly deserved but with only Andre Hainault’s spectacular strike to show for it – gave the fans what we wanted. One sweet taste of victory of the SPL veterans. It also, coupled with St Johnstone’s win over Motherwell (and more of them later), prevented the Inverness side from booking an EasyJet ﬂight to Lithuania on the fourth of July for the pre-pre-pre-pre-preliminary rounds of the Uefa Cup.
Canadian internationalist Hainault’s right footed thunderbolt stopped Inverness from qualifying for Europe. There were County fans who took added pleasure from that, a sense of schadenfreude that wasn’t entirely misplaced. Personally, I didn’t share it. It seems too remarkable to me that the Highland clubs have risen so far. I think it would have, brieﬂy perhaps, provided the Highland capital with an added sense of adventure. A recognisable name from one of Europe’s slightly-better-than-our-league leagues would have been quite something to behold, but it wasn’t to pass.
And so, both teams went home with the consolidation of being the top-ranked derby in the country. The days of Alan Hercher slogging it out with Alan Duff while Wilson Robertson and Billy Ferries tried to avoid getting clobbered for ninety minutes are long gone. Gone too are some of Ross County’s invincible XI. Gary Miller was the ﬁrst to go, to St.Johnstone; his place eventually going to the well-packed Swiss Mihael Kovacevic. When influential captain Richard Brittain announced his intention to leave as well, it really did feel like the end of an era. The team that went forty games without defeat was, like the end of
Stand By Me, slowly drifting away leaving behind only memories of thumping victories, silverware, doo-wop music and the time Steven Craig and Paul Lawson found a dead body by the side of the railway tracks.
Perhaps I’m getting confused between Ross County’s ﬁrst division title win and the Stephen King movie, but that’s besides the point. It was the memories that the run created which perhaps inspired the current side to perform so well. After all, Fraser, Boyd, Munro, Morrow, Fitzpatrick, Brittain, Cooper, Vigurs and several others chose to stay in Dingwall.
One of those who chose to stay was Paul Lawson. I’ve written elsewhere about the Derek Adams school of midfield development. Sign guys for nothing, let them hang around the squad playing bit-parts before integrating fully as essential automatic picks. Derek Adams develops players. You see it before your eyes. Richard Brittain is a better player than he was when he signed, Stuart Kettlewell particularly so, but perhaps most of all Paul Lawson. Lawson isn’t a particularly skilled player, although he’s decent on the ball. He certainly isn’t quick, or terribly mobile, nor does he have the pace to call himself a box-to-box midﬁelder. He is though, despite these glaring inefficiencies, a classy player. He controls the game, in a way none of our other midﬁelders – Vigurs included – can. He takes the ball off the central defenders and does something with it. Whether a thirty yard slide-rule pass through to a forward, or a cross ﬁeld Hollywood pass into the corners, it almost always comes off. Very rarely caught in possession, his range of passing and vision allowed a rather one-dimensional team in the second division become a ﬂowing – if solid – force in the top six of the SPL. He scored the odd scorcher now and again too. I typed that in past tense, not because he’s dead, just because Paul Lawson signed for Motherwell. Like Gary Miller, he will always be an invincible (with all the beer and applause privileges that entails), and I wish him well.
It leaves Ross County with a gaping hole in central midfield, irrespective of the conclusion of the Richard Brittain maelstrom. Iain Vigurs (who could be expected to push inside) is yet to renew his contract at the time of writing, which leaves Rocco Quinn and Stuart Kettlewell as our only central midﬁelders. The truth is, none of our best players have yet signed up – which is no slight on Quinn and Kettlewell, who are both ﬁne players who have raised their game in the SPL. Ten players have said they’ll come back to Dingwall next year, and all are already club legends. But without Lawson, our midﬁeld’s just a little bit ﬂatter, a little bit less expansive. All that I know is that Derek Adams will ﬁnd the guy to replace him. It might take a year or two, but he will.