A draw was the right conclusion from the point of view of both managers yesterday in Dingwall, as two first-half goals in the Highlands won Ross County and St Johnstone a point each.
Neither had to settle for a 1-1 draw in a game where the hosts dominated the first half and the visitors took the second.
The cup final is remembered by Steven Gerrard: the Rangers manager maintains that only the outcome against Celtic counted.
It was a two-half game, and I thought we were very good in the first half,”It was a game of two halves, in the first half I felt we were very good,”
Then it was St Johnstone who put us under pressure in the second half and we countered well to be honest. It was a two-half game and it was possibly a fair result.
“Together we win and together we lose. I’m just pleased with the Ross County players’ efforts and they’re digging in. I am optimistic about their spirit of struggle and their will.
By midweek, County had displayed all the signs of a squad that had internalized their new coach’s thoughts, and their confidence was clear on the ball.
Yesterday, the hosts, who fielded a very loose 4-3-3, struggled to deal with the Saints with their fluid mobility in possession and freedom to switch from conventional positions. More than once, when they were overrun by movement off the ball, you could hear the accompanying defenders telling their team to remain in their positions.
The Rangers manager maintains that only the result counted against Celtic in the cup final: Steven Gerrard.
And after just 20 minutes, County took the lead when Jason Naismith’s cross from the right saw Jermaine Hylton test Zander Clark until the ball fell to Ross Draper, who finished hard and low. Typically known for his defensive ability, the midfielder took advantage of the space available to join the attack, scoring from the box’s edge.
The style of play so characteristic of Hughes’ players, however, often carries risks, and although Draper and Co. scored the opening goal in promising positions, they left the hosts vulnerable to counterattacks. While their rivals were on the move forward and looking to strike, the Saints continued trying to win the ball.
Neil Lennon says that after a strong loss to Rangers, Celtic will win 10 games in a row.
The Saints equalized minutes after heading back. A ball was brought in from the right after a mix-up in the County ranks, Craig Conway got to the ball in the box in front of Keith Watson and comfortably converted the penalty he was given into the corner.
In the second half, the strength of Hughes’ side deteriorated and he reacted by replacing Iain Vigurs with the more attack-minded Michael Gardyne, but it was the introduction of David Wotherspoon that had a huge effect on the game in the second half as the visitors came more and more into the game and started to take advantage of the room they had not taken advantage of in the first half.
For the remainder of the first half, the Canadian international and Conway dominated the action. Wotherspoon should have given an assist when he played a pass from Conway into Chris Kane’s route, who did not even test Ross Laidlaw from 18 yards. Soon after, Laidlaw made a brilliant save to prevent 1-1 when he blocked Liam Gordon’s shot from close range after Conway played a ball into th
But as the home side returned into the game, it was his counterpart Clark who was instrumental in helping his side hold on to the draw in the closing stages. Before making a similar save on a Josh Reid shot from the corner of the box, he made a great reaction save to divert a Watson header over the bar.
The draw ended a miserable season for St Johnstone, who in the six games before the Parkhead draw had picked up just two points.
“The intensity we pressed with and our work rate in the first 20 minutes wasn’t good enough,”The intensity we pressed with and our work rate in the first 20 minutes wasn’t good enough.
I think we sorted ourselves out, got better, got the goal and I thought we were the better team until the last 20 minutes of the game.
“We started badly, probably as badly as we’ve ever started a game this season. We had the majority of chances and for me we have to take them and put them under pressure and finish the game.”