ROSS COUNTY have enjoyed an incredible two decades in senior fooball since moving up from the Highland League, but now they are on the verge of creating the wrong sort of history.
Scorers: Aberdeen - Rooney 20, Goodwillie 26, Pawlett 50
This latest abject defeat at Pittodrie was their seventh in a row in the league, matching the worst run in all that time, back when Alex Smith was manager 11 seasons ago.
Now Jim McIntyre’s in the post, and while he has only been in charge for two of those games, he is under no illusion how difficult it will be to stop the rot at home to Dundee next weekend.
At least they have the visit of hapless Hibs in the League Cup before then, surely a tonic for any team
desperately looking for a morale boosting result, but the Staggies will even struggle in that one if they defend as poorly as they did at Pittodrie.
The only surprise is that it took Aberdeen 19 minutes to score the opening goal, given their inventive, fluid and pacey attacking football, combined with the visitor’s utterly shambolic defending. McIntyre made several changes to the back four from the previous week’s defeat against Motherwell in an attempt to staunch the flow of goals against, only to see his tinkering, if anything, make matters worse.
Jim Fenlon’s introduction at right back looked particularly ill-advised as the former AFC Wimbledon defender seemed clueless throughout, which was a gift Peter Pawlett was happy to exploit.
The Aberdeen midfielder relished the room he was afforded down the left with only an offside flag preventing Niall McGinn capitalising from his team-mate’s brilliance early on. Of course the home side’s main problem last season was an inability to score enough goals when on top of games at Pittodrie and McInnes was proactive when it came to solving that here.
He started David Goodwillie and Adam Rooney up front together for the first time in the league and increased their attacking options even further by playing Jonny Hayes ostensibly as a left back.
That left Ross County’s bothered and bewildered backline trying to repel attacks from a variety of areas that they initially managed with a mixture of good fortune and good goalkeeping.
Mark Brown was back in from the start and made a series of impressive stops to keep out Rooney, Goodwillie, Pawlett and Ryan Jack, while Darren Barr pitched in with an amazing goal-line clearance to deny McGinn.
All the more exasperating for McIntyre then that Aberdeen’s first two goals came from the sort of simple set pieces that any competent defence should have been able to deal with.
McGinn was the provider for both, the first a corner from the left and the second a free kick from deep, leaving Rooney then Goodwillie with free close range headers.
“When you come to places like Pittodrie you need to start the game well, so when you lose two goals from two free headers it gives you a mountain to climb,” said McIntyre.
“Aberdeen were comfortable and deservedly won the match. We analysed the job before we took it and felt it was always going to be a difficult job but it’s a challenge, which is why I’m here.”
Ross County’s crisis of confidence was not confined to the defensive side of the game as Rocco Quinn proved all too eloquently. Even before Aberdeen edged in front, Quinn raced clear from a delicious Michael Gardyne pass, then made a complete hash of the finish when getting his feet tangled up.
Then in the second half the same player was in a similar position only to hit an indecisive shot against a grateful Jamie Langfield, but by then Pawlett had already increased the home advantage, his shot deflecting in off the unfortunate Gardyne. Goodwillie of all people was guilty of a quite extraordinary miss, turning his shot against the post after rounding the goalkeeper and being left with an open goal as Aberdeen settled for three.
The only other moment of discomfort for manager Derek McInnes was the sight of his midfielders Jack and Willo Flood being booked in the first half for a confrontation with each other. “It’s not nice to see and I don’t want to just dismiss it,” was McInnes’s reaction to the unsavoury incident afterwards. “The referee handled it well and was totally right to book the players.”
If Ross County players can channel the same sort of energy and commitment into their game, then it could yet turn out to be a season which can be brought back from the abyss for the Dingwall side.