Ross County v Celtic 5th May 2013

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It was an early rise for this game, as we headed to Dingwall, for the Sunday ESPN, Live midday match, between Ross County and Celtic.

Both the AA route planner and the satnav informed us to go over the Erskine Bridge, past Loch Lomond, Crianlarach, Glencoe, Fort William and the likes. It was a stop, start, tedious journey along numerous country roads, but we still made it there, despite some appalling driving by some people, in just under four hours and a good thirty minutes before kick off.

We found a housing estate about ten minutes walk away from the stadium and parked the car there. It turned out to be an excellent spot for the journey home, as once you came out the street, you turned right, taking you out of town and on the route south. I would rectify the earlier mistake of trusting the AA, by heading past Inverness instead, down to Perth, before heading for Glasgow!

In contrast to the weather yesterday, it was a lovely day for going to the football, though I ever knew just how bad the pitch was until I saw the highlights later that night. There were a couple of sections that looked patchy, then there was the area near the tunnel which was completely devoid of any grass!

As this was a big game for the locals, it was busy on the approach to the stadium and there was a good atmosphere building outside. We walked round all four stands, before heading to the East Stand area where we would be seated for this game.

The stand is close to the pitch and we had a good view, looking along the eighteen yard box at the home end. Ross County have had an exceptional season and are incredibly, still in the hunt for a Europa League place. They are possibly proof, that if you speculate to accumulate and have sound investment and management, you will reap the benefits of this.

Ross County joined the Scottish leagues in 1994, along with Inverness Caledonian Thistle, when the leagues were expanded. It has been a slow process, but like their Highland counterparts, they are now experiencing life at the top end of the table.

Having been Scottish Cup Finalists in 2010, knocking Celtic out along the way, Manager Derek Adams still has the nucleus of his Division One championship winning team, with players like Paul Lawson, Richard Brittain, Iain Vigurs, Martin Scott, Rocco Quinn, Scott Boyd and Stuart Kettlewell.

On top of that he has brought in the SPL experience of Grant Munro, Sam Morrow, Mihal Kovacevic, Mark Brown, Evangelos Ikonomou and latterly, German striker, Steffen Wohlfarth, goalkeeper, Paul Gallacher and winger, Ivan Sproule.

Celtic continued to rest a few of their first team players, with Lukasz Zaluska in goals, Israeli centre half, Rami Gershon making a rare start. Dylan McGeoch played on the right of midfield with Anthony Stokes and Tony Watt up front, at the expense of Forster, Mulgrew, Samaras, Wanyama and Hooper.

The sun was out, but it was still a bit cold in the shade. The atmosphere was good among the 5,873 crowd and it was Celtic who made the early breakthrough. A Commons corner on the far side was controlled by Stokes in the six yard box. He was surprisingly given the time and space to hook a shot high past Michael Fraser in the goal to open the scoring.

Both teams had mixed spells of possession after the opener without threatening each others goal. A McGeoch header and an effort from Watt failed to trouble Fraser, before Martin Scott tested Zaluska from distance just after the twenty minute mark, but his shot went wide.

I am unsure if it was due to the pitch not being conducive to a passing game, but both teams opted to play high balls up the park which was not the most entertaining. Worse still, both defences played high up the pitch meaning there was a lot of offside decisions made and with all the play condensed in the centre of the pitch, there was a lot of petty fouling.

This continued through most of the first half and it was a clumsy foul on the left wing by Ambrose on Sproule, five minutes before the break that led to the County equaliser.

The Celtic defence seemed to get caught cold as they expected a cross into the box from Brittain. Instead, the ball was squared to Vigurs who swept a first time drive goal wards and it curved over the despairing hand of Zaluska as it ended up in the back of his top left hand corner. A truly wonderful strike that had the home fans on their feet!

Right on the stroke of half time, Celtic could have taken the lead into the break when, following a move down the right, Tony Watt turned the ball past Michael Fraser in goals. The away fans behind the goal saw their celebrations cut short, when the far side linesman had already flagged Stokes for offside, so the score remained level.

At the start of the second half, it was Celtic who were the better side and managed to force County ‘keeper, Fraser into a couple of smart saves. First he turned away a Stokes shot from twenty yards out, then just before the hour mark, Fraser again saved well from an Ambrose header following a Commons corner.

Celtic seemed to have peaked after that spell of dominance and Ross County then got back into the game. A Sproule cross on the right wing with twenty five minutes left presented Wohlfarth with a free header in the six yard box. He had time to pick his spot, but he contrived to put his effort past the right hand post.

As Celtic replaced Commons with Tom Rogic, it was County who continued to assert themselves more. Martin Scott then held the ball up well in the penalty box, before turning to hit a snap shot which went wide. A couple of crosses by both Sproule and Vigurs were put into the visitors box, but there was nobody on the end of them for the Dingwall side.

With just under ten minutes to go, Paul Lawson tried his luck from fully thirty yards out, but his drive went just over the bar with Zaluska scrambling. Derek Adams made a double change in the last couple of minutes with Sproule and Kovacevic making way for Mark Fotheringham and Scott Boyd respectively.

Richard Brittain had a free kick blocked by Tony Watt, before Paul Lawson saw his close range shot saved by Zaluska with two minutes left. There was a further two minutes of injury time played and both teams played out the rest of the game as if they were content with a point apiece.

Given the condition of the pitch and the changes made among the Celtic personnel, this was still a decent game of football. As we left, I thought I heard one of the staff shout ‘free pies’! I had already walked past, but stopped, doubled back and asked if she had just shouted what I thought she said! This must be a regular occurrence at home games, as other fans came over asking for specific makes of pies, but we were only too happy to indulge in a couple of gratis macaroni ones!

All the stands at The Global Energy Stadium are roughly the same height and it reminds me of a similar design to new St Mirren Park and that at Livingston. The Main (West) Stand is probably the busiest, as home and away fans congregate outside it before kick off and similarly at full time. The away fans have to pass it to enter the North Stand behind the goal, which was previously an uncovered terrace, but was newly built in the last couple of years following promotion to the SPL.

Opposite this, is the East Stand. It has seen a lot of work to it in the last eighteen months with extensions at either end of the original structure, which included the addition of new seating and Executive Boxes.

The Jail End (South) Stand is for the home fans, behind the opposite goal and again this has been refurbished in the last couple of years. In between this area and the East Stand is a couple of well stocked snack bars.

It is a long day travelling up and down to Dingwall, but it was a decent day and an enjoyable experience overall. The match programme at £2 is a very good read and excellent value, although I felt the admission prices were surprisingly high.

I bought the tickets over the phone a few weeks in advance of the game and including a £1 booking fee, it cost a total of £39 for a parent and child. It would put me off going up again, given the total outlay including fuel, but the local people are probably better placed to judge if this pricing policy is fair or not.

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