Celebrations on hold until after Caley tie says McIntyre
Manager McIntyre hails small club’s ‘incredible achievement’
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