COMMENTARY: End of an era at Ross County as chairman Roy MacGregor pulls the plug on his most controversial managerial appointment
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Malky Mackay spent 903 days in charge at Ross County, winning 30 games of football.
It is fair to say the former Celtic and Norwich City defender's arrival as a surprise managerial choice ushered in one of the most controversial and eventful eras in the Premiership club’s history.
Those 30 victories were spread across just under two and a half years in charge at Ross County and accompanied by 26 draws and 51 defeats, from 107 matches.
The bare statistics say little of the rollercoaster nature of County’s fortunes during his turbulent tenure.
Even Mackay’s unveiling on May 26, 2021, with a press conference carried out by video link during Covid restrictions, provoked a backlash.
A significant section of supporters voiced concern over the embracing of an appointee who had sparked an English FA investigation in 2014 into allegedly sexist, racist and homophobic texts exchanged between him and head of recruitment Iain Moody, while at Cardiff City.
Mackay had apologised for sending two one-line text messages he admitted were ‘disrespectful of other cultures’ but he was later cleared by the FA in July 2015, with no further action taken against him and Moody.
Still, it was a controversy that would flare repeatedly in publicity as Mackay took new jobs at Wigan, the Scottish FA and then at Ross County.
The County press call on his appointment was overshadowed by hard questions on Mackay’s past, with reporters naturally seeking answers on the divisive nature of the decision and the club’s outlook on supporters’ unrest.
Once in place in the job, though, Mackay – who had received equality and diversity training from the English FA – was never hounded on the issue and given respectful space by the local media to convey his ideas and philosophy.
He quickly built good relations with supporters and reporters, particularly the written media, where he seemed most at ease outlining his aspirations for reshaping Ross County’s football department from top to bottom.
Behind the scenes changes brought emphasis on sports science, video analysis technology and the creation of a club culture that, as was quickly evident, put high priority on players’ well-being and support.
Nothing was left to chance, with key appointments including Enda Barron as head of analysis and recruitment and sports scientist, most recently Alun Andrews.
Mackay’s strong relationship with chairman Roy MacGregor seemed a match made in heaven.
He always emphasised that he was creating a club structure that would survive his departure and that approach was very much in tune with MacGregor’s wish to cement County’s operations and ethos as a modern-thinking club
County’s squads under Mackay – who is estimated by website transfermarkt.co.uk to have used 57 players in his time at the club – were always buoyant and engaged in the manager’s ideas and ambitions.
Mackay mined a rich seam of talent in England, placing great emphasis on character and personality in his signings, as well as ability.
That generated strong bonds within the dressing room with individuals like Jack Baldwin, Yan Dhanda and Josh Sims epitomising the professionalism and drive exhibited by non-Mackay signings like Jordan White and Connor Randall.
MacGregor had to stand firm early in Mackay’s tenure when he went a first 10 league games without victory.
Early season malaise would prove a repeated theme.
Something clicked on a dreary Wednesday night in Dundee as County recorded a 5-0 triumph, with winger Regan Charles-Cook netting a double.
The Englishman would become the poster boy for County’s revival which saw them soar through the winter period before claiming a top six place, with a late Jo Hungbo penalty earning victory at Aberdeen.
It seemed to matter little that the Staggies then took just one point from five post-split matches, but the poor league form rolled into season 22/23 with just one league victory in nine opening games.
Last season there was to be no dramatic winter transformation as sluggish form continued, but a spate of wins in April - against St Johnstone, Livingston and Dundee United - was enough to avoid bottom place and automatic relegation by three points.
A Premiership play-off final against Partick Thistle then provided one of the most thrilling moments in County’s colourful Scottish league history.
A 2-0 Firhill defeat with young Dylan Smith sent off was ominous and when County were hit by Aiden Fitzpatrick’s goal just before half-time in the Dingwall second leg, Partick’s dressing room turned up the volume on celebratory music.
In a jaw-dropping turnaround, though, and with VAR in overdrive, the 3-0 aggregate deficit was whittled away by Dhanda’s penalty and a Simon Murray finish in quick succession.
Ashen-faced Partick fans fell silent and Victoria Park’s home stands exploded in joy as George Harmon’s stoppage time strike took the game to extra-time and then penalties, where County prevailed.
The jubilant scenes, with players and supporters dancing together in celebration after full-time, sent a heady spike of good feeling through the club after a miserable campaign.
Record season ticket sales were generated off the back of it and optimism was sky-high heading into this season.
Sadly for County and Mackay, good form and progress in the League Cup was not reflected in the league, where yet again early form was sluggish.
MacGregor had stuck by Mackay through worse, but with just two wins from 12 it seems the chairman’s patience had worn thin.
A meeting between MacGregor, Mackay and CEO Steve Ferguson concluded it was time for the manager to go.
He leaves County in a precarious position in the league, but with a smooth-running operation for any successor to step into.
County will not be short of candidates willing to fill Mackay’s shoes, but must find the right fit.