If last season represented evidence of what can be achieved by a couple of new faces in the January window, it seems clear that Derek Adams is aiming to catch lightning in a bottle for the second straight season. Ross County’s latest forays into the free agent and loanee pool appears to yet again be paying off handsomely.
For those with short memories, last season saw County take advantage of the winter break to head to Spain, and sign several trialists on short term deals. Andre Hainault, the Canadian international defender, Ivan Sproule and Steffen Wohlfart all came, saw, conquered and left. As did Evangelos Oikonomou, the Greek left back. But, to the delight of everyone in Dingwall, the man dubbed “Adonis”, “Zeus”, “sensational”, and “dreamy” by many voices on Twitter, Oik has returned to the Global Energy stadium after a short-lived spell back in his homeland. His debut? Ross County’s first clean sheet in eleven games, and their second win on the bounce, following a thoroughly deserved Highland Derby on January the first.
Against St Johnstone, the man dubbed “a babe” by one St Johnstone fan and “glorious” by a County fan was a stand-out. His familiar silky first touch, dominant presence and crossing ability brought back memories of County’s sensational run in the second half of last season, during which he was a standout. Despite not playing much over the last six months, he had barely missed a beat. It was not simply a case of mass homo-eroticism over the rugged defender, with his chiselled good looks and dashing tan. The stoic defender seems to have a calming influence on those around him, and that Brian McLean and Scott Boyd had their finest games of the season against the Perth side was surely no coincidence. In a division in which many of the teams are of similar standard, a high quality defensive line can make all the difference in the world.
The signing of Oikonomou and the resulting upturn in stability came at a time most opportune. County’s form – one point in ten games before the win over Inverness (what price a Derek Adams/Yogi Hughes swap now?) – was abject. Ben Gordon, a competent defender highly rated by Kilmarnock fans, looked nervous and jittery in the left back role (although he was certainly beginning to come on to a game). He even took to social media to apologise for a borderline error against Dundee United, which prevented County getting a 0-0 draw. This would appear both a measure of the man, and a sign of a substantial lack of confidence. Three weeks ago, left back was a problem position for Derek Adams; his faith in Gordon no less apparent, but the move to bring back Oikonomou was clearly the right decision.
The return of arguably the finest left back in the country came as part of what seems to be a series of semi-desperate moves by George and Derek Adams. Michael Tidser, a standout in the first division, came in loan from Rotherham to bolster the midfield. He will shortly be joined by Fillip Kiss, another midfielder, from Cardiff City, and striker Jordan Slew, signed by Blackburn for a million pounds not long ago, has already made his impact, giving the excellent Josh Meekings a torrid time in the Highland Derby victory. Like last year, few if any of these players will be at County beyond the summer (though one would like to think the Oikster could be convinced to move to Dingwall, the Athens of the North of the North as it were, on a long-term basis). Like last year, they may well represent the difference between a side battling for tenth and a side comfortably in the middle of the pack. The sense of optimism among the fans is palpable. This, judging by the last two performances, has fed off on the players. Evangelos Oikonomou may only have played twenty games for Ross County, but he must surely go down as one of our greatest ever signings.
Finally, a passing reference to the ever-excellent standard of comment by our nation’s most esteemed former professionals. On Saturday’s “Open All Mics”, John Robertson contrived to announce that County defender Mihael Kovaçeviç had “failed to return to the club from a holiday in Switzerland”. In reality, the big defender has been granted compassionate leave to attend to the care of his ill father. Derek Adams has made it clear he has the club’s support to remain away as long as is required. All of Scotzine pass their best wishes on to the right back, and this writer in particular hopes that Robertson will have the dignity to retract his comments.