Brian Graham didn’t score the winning goal on Sunday, nor will he be credited with an assist. However, as most Ross County fans will attest to, he played a massive role in securing the club’s first trophy in their history.
Sunday’s League Cup final was an off-day for leading striker Liam Boyce. The Northern Irishman, along with strike-partner and eventual match-winner Alex Schalk, were sometimes left adrift of their team-mates as opponents Hibernian cranked up the pressure. This led to his substitution shortly after the hour mark as Graham took his place.
The former Raith Rovers and Dundee United striker gave the away side an extra impetus in attack. He twice had the ball in the back of the net, only for the goals to be chopped off for infringements, and he was the target for Michael Gardyne’s 90th minute cross that was deflected into the path of Alex Schalk to score the winning goal.
Rising off the bench to replace Boyce was a scenario Graham likely would have envisioned when he agreed to move to the Dingwall club last summer. It was a move that took more than a few people by surprise. Graham had spent the majority of last season on loan at St Johnstone where he’d played regularly, helping the club to finish fourth in the league table and qualify for Europe. And yet, Graham turned his back on the chance to remain in Perth and play on the continent, having already agreed a pre-contract to sign for Ross County.
Not only was he swapping a top six club for a side that summoned an incredible run of results to avoid relegation, he was also walking into a situation where there was plenty of competition for places up front, with Boyce and Craig Curran the undoubted first-choice pairing.
Even though the battle for a first-team spot was made even tougher by the acquisition of Schalk last autumn, off-setting an injury to Curran, Graham has continued to play his part, and as he beamed in front of the media after winning the first major trophy of his career, he knew his decision had been fully justified.
“Maybe a few people looked at the move I made in the summer and wondered why I was leaving a top four side in St Johnstone, who had European football, to go to Ross County. But I believed in Jim McIntyre. He sold the club really well to me,” revealed Graham.
“What he said to me then has happened. We have been on a good cup run and we are in the top six. We want to cement our position in the next two games.
“That is what we planned at the start of the season. So far, so good.
“I heard Hibs were favourites. People just looked at Hibs as the big outfit and we were the small club from the Highlands coming down for the big Hampden day.
“We showed against Celtic in the semi-final and Hibernian in the final that we are as good as anybody on our day.”
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