Cel­e­bra­tions on hold un­til af­ter Ca­ley tie says McIn­tyre

Man­ager McIn­tyre hails small club’s ‘in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment’

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW LIND­SAY

JIM McIN­TYRE has put Ross County’s cel­e­bra­tions af­ter win­ning the first tro­phy in their 87 year his­tory on ice – to en­able them to pre­pare prop­erly for their Lad­brokes Premier­ship match against St John­stone.

County de­feated their Cham­pi­onship ri­vals Hiber­nian 2-1 in the League Cup fi­nal in front of a crowd of 38,796 at Ham­p­den yes­ter­day thanks to a last­minute goal from Alex Shalk.

How­ever, the Ding­wall club have a league match against St John­stone at McDiarmid Park on Wed­nes­day night and McIn­trye is de­ter­mined for them to fin­ish in the top six this sea­son.

He re­vealed they will save their party un­til af­ter their High­land derby match against In­ver­ness Cale­do­nian This­tle at the Global En­ergy Arena this Satur­day.

“The play­ers will be in at lunch time to pre­pare prop­erly for Wed­nes­day,” he said. “It’s too im­por­tant. Teams are bit­ing and scratch­ing for that top six.

“If we go out and party, then I know some play­ers will not be ready or in the right frame of mind. We might still lose on Wed­nes­day, but at least I’ll be able to look in the mir­ror and say I’ve done things pro­fes­sion­ally.

“A few boys will stay down here tonight and see fam­ily from the cen­tral belt, then drive up to Ding­wall in the morn­ing. I trust them. They are far more pro­fes­sional than I was.

“Our plan is to do some­thing af­ter the game on Satur­day. You don’t pre-book th­ese things, you don’t want to tempt fate. But we will have a party on Satur­day night af­ter the Ca­ley game.

“Re­gard­less of what our re­sult are on Wed­nes­day and Satur­day, we will def­i­nitely cel­e­brate win­ning this cup. To win this has just been a dream.

“We thor­oughly de­served our place here to­day. We showed we are a good side. We scored seven against Falkirk, three against Celtic, two against In­ver­ness and two against Ayr United. We have cer­tainly done it in style.”

Alan Stubbs, the Hibs man­ager, dis­missed sug­ges­tions the painful de­feat would im­pact his play­ers as the Easter Road club bid to win pro­mo­tion to the Premier­ship and win the Scot­tish Cup.

“The play­ers are dis­ap­pointed. But they have so much to play for,” he said.

IT would be stretch­ing things some­what to sug­gest the bal­ance of power in the Scot­tish game now rests in the High­lands or, for that mat­ter, will be shift­ing there any time soon.

Yet, in join­ing their near neigh­bours In­ver­ness Cale­do­nian This­tle, win­ners of the Scot­tish Cup last sum­mer, in lift­ing the first ma­jor piece of sil­ver­ware in their his­tory, Ross County, nick­named The Stag­gies, have cer­tainly struck a ma­jor blow for foot­ball in the area.

The Ding­wall club left it late to see off Hibs in the League Cup fi­nal at Ham­p­den yes­ter­day. It took a goal in the fi­nal minute of regulation time from their Dutch striker Alex Shalk to se­cure a nar­row vic­tory in what had be­come an un­bear­ably tense en­counter.

It is, though, just 22 years since both Cale­do­nian This­tle and County were granted en­try into the Scot­tish Foot­ball League. It is re­mark­able that the tro­phies from the two na­tional cup com­pe­ti­tions now re­side in the north of the coun­try given the length of time they have been mem­bers of the se­nior set-up.

County hail from a town with a pop­u­la­tion of un­der 6,000. But they have es­tab­lished them­selves as a Premier­ship club in the last four sea­sons and this tri­umph, cel­e­brated by as many sup­port­ers as they have res­i­dents at Ham­p­den, was sim­ply an­other mile­stone in what has been quite a jour­ney for them.

Jim McIn­trye’s side spent long spells, in the first half in par­tic­u­lar, soak­ing up pres­sure and break­ing down op­po­si­tion at­tacks. At times, they rode their luck. How­ever, the fi­nal re­sult was far from for­tu­itous. They per­formed with in­tel­li­gence af­ter their man­ager boldly switched to a 3-5-2 for­ma­tion and con­trib­uted greatly to the game. Cru­cially, they were more clin­i­cal than their op­po­nents.

Brian Gra­ham, who re­placed Liam Boyce up front for County early in the se­cond half, had what his man­ager felt was a per­fectly le­git­i­mate goal dis­al­lowed by match of­fi­cial Kevin Clancy when he rose and headed a Richard Foster cross be­yond Hibs keeper Mark Ox­ley. The Easter Road club, too, were very lucky not to be re­duced to 10 men af­ter Marvin Bart­ley el­bowed Gra­ham in the face as they both chased down a ball. Clancy and his as­sis­tant ref­eree Alan Mul­vanny both had good views of the in­ci­dent, but, for some rea­son, the of­fend­ing player only re­ceived a yel­low card.

“It’s an in­cred­i­ble achieve­ment if you con­sider that both clubs are now hold­ers of the two na­tional tro­phies,” said McIn­tyre. “It might only be for a month, un­less In­ver­ness win the Scot­tish Cup again, but it’s just fan­tas­tic for a club the size of Ross County to come down to here and do the busi­ness.”

Hibs could have few com­plaints. This was an­other bit­ter dis­ap­point­ment for a club which has en­dured more than their fair share of them over the years. They dom­i­nated large swathes of the game with­out ever re­ally blud­geon­ing their ri­vals. Over 30,000 of their fol­low­ers traipsed back to the cap­i­tal de­jected. It was not the first time.

“We have cer­tainly played our part in the game,” said their man­ager Alan Stubbs af­ter­wards. “Un­for­tu­nately, we have con­trib­uted to our down­fall as well. I am not go­ing to crit­i­cise any­body. We looked in con­trol of the game at times. We just didn’t re­ally cre­ate enough clear op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Se­ri­ous ques­tions must be asked of the re­solve of Stubbs’s team. They failed to kill off Falkirk in the Scot­tish Cup semi-fi­nal last sea­son af­ter dom­i­nat­ing that match, were sub­se­quently knocked out of the Premier­ship play-offs and have fallen out of touch in the Cham­pi­onship ti­tle race in re­cent weeks as well.

From the mo­ment Ja­son Cum­mings tested Gary Woods with a dip­ping shot from just out­side the County penalty box in the 12th minute, a goal-bound ef­fort which the keeper man­aged to palm over his cross­bar, Hibs en­joyed the bet­ter of the first half.

County scored very much against the run of play in the 26th minute. Hibs, though, only had them­selves to blame for fall­ing be­hind. Kevin Thom­son un­der­hit a pass to An­thony Stokes in a dan­ger­ous po­si­tion in­side his own half and Jack­son Irvine in­ter­cepted.

Irvine ad­vanced up­field be­fore sup­ply­ing Michael Gar­dyne. Marvin Bart­ley at­tempted to dis­pos­sess him and Ox­ley raced off his line to block any shot. Nei­ther man achieved his aim. Both play­ers sim­ply suc­ceeded in gift­ing the winger an invit­ing empty net to side foot the ball into which he duly did.

Hibs pushed hard for the equaliser and drew level at the per­fect mo­ment in the fi­nal minute of the first half. A Liam Hen­der­son cor­ner broke to Liam Fon­taine on the edge of the County area and he did well to drill a low left foot shot be­yond the clutches of the out­stretched Woods and into the net.

You would have ex­pected the goal to lift Hibs in the se­cond half. The op­po­site was true. They had an ap­peal for a penalty waved away fol­low­ing a reck­less chal­lenge by Martin Woods on David Gray. But it would have been a soft award. County broke up­field with sec­onds re­main­ing on the clock. Gar­dyne squared a ball into the Hibs six yard box and with Gra­ham lurk­ing just be­hind him at the back post Fon­taine had to at­tempt a clear­ance. He only suc­ceeded in di­vert­ing the ball into the path of Shalk who prod­ded home.

HAM­P­DEN HE­ROES: Ross County cap­tain An­drew Davies lifts the League Cup tro­phy, and the e vic­tory will prompt tears of joy in Ding­wall, pre­dicted Alex Schalk who scored the win­ner for the Stag­gies

HIGH­LAND SPIRIT: Jim McIn­tyre cel­e­brates as his Ross County team made Ding­wall proud with their 2-1 tri­umph over Hiber­nian

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