October was an horrendous month for Ross County. They lost five of six league games and looked doomed. Crucially, most of these games were against teams in the bottom half of the table; they took a point at home to Dundee United but lost to Kilmarnock and Motherwell left Dingwall with a 0-5 win.
A run of form like that can be difficult to recover from. Jack Ross was unable to do so at United before being emptied out. Malky MacKay hung in there and responded with a transformational performance and result against St Mirren, overcoming a halftime deficit to take the win. On Tuesday they plunged Hibs into crisis by deservedly winning at Easter Road.
Those two wins moved them three points clear of the relegation spots. No side in Scotland is more experienced at battling relegation better than Ross County, it has been their daily chore for 10 of the last 11 seasons. They pick up points when not expected, you will not need reminded of which team came to Celtic Park and stopped out run of consecutive Trebles at four.
There will be a demob mood around Celtic Park tomorrow, our last game for a month as football breaks for the World Cup. Some players are off to the tournament, the rest will pack their bags after the game and within days will land in Sydney.
Can you imagine the difference in perspective the County players will have to the game? They have nothing on the roster but to give their all in an effort to frustrate Celtic and take something from the game. Their performance level against Hibs was a new peak for the season and miles ahead of where they were when they came within six minutes of taking a point off Celtic in August.
Celtic have talent in abundance, yet struggled against bottom side Dundee United on Saturday, then had to manage their way through the final minutes at Motherwell. Nothing can be taken for granted tomorrow.
An SFA statement this morning addressed the Jota ‘goal’ at Motherwell on Wednesday, confirming the VAR camera which should have been pointing at play “did not capture an appropriate view of the incident”. We read elsewhere it was trained on the managers at the near touchline, which itself begs many questions, but back to the SFA statement.
Having confirmed the only Hawkeye camera at that side of the field was not looking at play, the SFA nonetheless vaguely imply VAR got the decision right. What they actually said was that VAR determined “the Celtic player had received the ball in an offside position”. Offside has nothing to do with when a player receives the ball, it is only active the instant a forward pass is made. On this matter, the SFA statement makes no comment, but they would like you to think everything worked out for the best anyway.
They then try to divert blame away from themselves by saying “We have provided feedback to the host broadcaster”. “Host broadcaster” is a term you only hear when a UK commentator abroad attributes pictures (or the lack of) to the TV company covering the game. The SFA are the effective host on this occasion and their Hawkeye system does not even broadcasting. This was a shabby attempt at diversion.
Celtic, who campaigned for VAR, must be wondering why they bothered. I doubt in the history of the technology any other club had a goal disallowed when the VAR camera was inconveniently looking elsewhere. One level of conduct for Celtic, it seems.