Third plays seventh in the Highlands tomorrow with the home side keen to make up ground on the top 2 clubs in the division, while visitors Dunfermline look to extend a good away record in what has otherwise been a disappointing League campaign so far.
Here is the current Championship table:
The dismal home defeat to Falkirk a fortnight ago signalled the start of a 2 week gap between games for the Pars, a period that for some would have been an opportune time to bring in a new management team, given the team's underwhelming season and a particularly poor home record. Had results at East End Park mirrored the team's away form, then the game this weekend may have been a top of the table fixture; Dunfermline have gathered 11 points from 6 away games, but only 4 points from 7 home matches. The Pars board, led by chairman Ross McArthur, have stuck by their manager - a case of either supreme loyalty, belief, or on the flip side of that argument - blind faith or lack of funds to fire him.
As fans of the club, we all want our manager to succeed. Allan Johnston is a decent guy and it is hard to bear any ill will towards him. However, the team are currently 15 points off the top of the table and less than a handful of points from being involved at the wrong end of the division. Ultimately, that's what matters.
Team, formation etc
Mark Durnan (recovering from hernia operation)
Tom Beadling (not near game-ready after his latest injury)
Louis Longridge (going for an operation according to Allan Johnston)
Aidan Keena (returned to parent club Hearts after picking up a dead leg against Falkirk, and still unfit)
While the defence largely picks itself - although there could be a case to involve a now fully fit Lewis Martin, who can play anywhere across the backline - it is in the midfield and forward positions that decisions will be made for this week's lineup. Assuming we retain the 4-4-2 formation, I would expect Kallum Higginbotham to keep his place on the right wing. The other 3 midfield positions are very much up for grabs. The central 2 positions could be occupied by the same 2 players that started the last 2 games - Malaury Martin and Joe Thomson. James Vincent and James Craigen could come into contention, as would Tom Beadling if he is ever match fit for any period of time. As much as I rate Malaury Martin, I would bring in James Craigen for this game as the Ross County team are known for being physical, and Martin has shown that he can be out-muscled - a sad comment on the Scottish game, perhaps.
On the left midfield, Myles Hippolyte did very little against Falkirk. I would bring back Aidan Connolly on the understanding that he stays out wide and is not used as a striker at any point, something Allan Johnston has tried in recent games.
Up front, With Aidan Keena out injured, and Andy Ryan out of form, that leaves Faissal El Bakhtaoui, Robbie Muirhead and Hippolyte (if used as a striker) to choose from. This really should be the time for Muirhead to be given a chance but I have not been impressed by him in reserve games or in his brief substitute appearances for the first team. A pairing of Faissal and Myles Hippolyte could start, with Ryan and Muirhead on the bench. We are desperately short of options in attack.
Preferred starting 11:
Pre-season title favourites County go into tomorrow's game without as many as 6 first team regulars. Already out are long-term absentees Michael Gardyne and Liam Fontaine. They could be joined by Billy McKay, Ross Draper, Iain Vigurs and Callum Morris. Vigurs was on crutches earlier in the week; Morris, who only returned to training on Monday, broke his wrist during his first session back. McKay and Draper are both carrying injuries but could still be in contention depending on their speed of recovery.
County co-manager Stuart Kettlewell told local media: “We’ve had a few problems this week. Iain Vigurs picked up a problem in training. Billy McKay took a whack and Ross Draper is also struggling. We can’t put a timescale on any of them, but some may have a chance for Saturday.
“We’re looking at a lot of big players on the injury-list again. For this time of year it is unusual, but we’re not going to beat ourselves up about it. Young Tom Grivosti came in and played excellently against Motherwell Colts (in the Irn Bru Cup), so as much as we have a few injuries to deal with, we’ve a couple of guys ready to take advantage.
“Tom has been the prime candidate from the younger batch here who are pushing through and doing well.”