Match preview: Ross County out to send message against Championship outfit Arbroath
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The message to Ross County's squad ahead of tonight's Betfred Cup group match against Arbroath is a clear one – you must improve.
After last week's capitulation from 3–0 up against Montrose, Stuart Kettlewell will have left them with no doubt that a repeat performance cannot be allowed to happen, but the Smokies will be tough opposition for them.
In the Championship last season, Dick Campbell's side were the surprise package, competing in and around the play-off places before the season was curtailed with them in fifth.
It looks like they have started the new campaign in similar form, taking maximum points from their first two games, and memories will have resurfaced of the last time these two teams met when Arbroath won 4–1 at Gayfield.
However, history shows that the home team wins more often than not out of these two, and if the Staggies can make that ring true convincingly it will go a long way to boosting confidence before Premiership action resumes.
Ross County: Coll Donaldson is available for County again after serving a suspension at Montrose last week, while Connor Randall is back in training after sitting out the last couple of games.
Tom Grivosti will continue to push for his first appearance in almost exactly a year after being an unused substitute in the last two matches, but Ross Draper has had a setback with his calf issue and will not feature.
Josh Reid is isolating after Scotland Under-19s manager Billy Stark tested positive for Covid-19 while on international duty, and loan pair Ross Doohan and Stephen Kelly are expected back in Dingwall tomorrow after Scotland Under-21s duty.
Arbroath: More rotation could be in order for Arbroath after Dick Campbell made six changes to his side for the win over Montrose on Saturday.
With six points already on the board and the knowledge that his side could build an unassailable lead at the top of the group over Ross County with a win tonight, he will want to play his strongest team – but exactly what that looks like after a busy summer may still be up in the air.
Kris Doolan and Scott Gallacher both made the move to the Red Lichties, while James Craigen made his loan from Fylde permanent. Campbell also brought in Hearts midfielder Connor Smith and Aberdeen duo Miko Virtanen and Michael Ruth on loan, sohe is not short of options for the new season.
Ross County: drew 3–3 away at Montrose (won 5–4 on penalties), lost 2–0 away at Rangers, lost 3–0 at home against Aberdeen, won 1–0 away at St Johnstone, lost 5–0 at home to Celtic.
Arbroath: won 3–1 at home against Montrose, won 2–1 away at Stirling Albion, won 4–0 at home against Formartine United, won 3–0 at home against Forfar Athletic, won 3–1 away at Brechin City.
Head-to-head (all competitions)
Ross County 18
Last five meetings
Arbroath 4–1 Ross County – League Cup, Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Arbroath 0–0 Ross County – League Cup, Saturday, July 29, 2017
Ross County 3–1 Arbroath – Division One, Saturday, April 26, 2003
Arbroath 2–1 Ross County – Division One, Saturday, December 21, 2002
Ross County 4–0 Arbroath – Division One, Saturday, October 19, 2002
Ones to watch
Ross County: Ross Laidlaw – after a poor defensive display last week saw County give away three soft goals, the spotlight will once again be on the backline tonight.
Laidlaw has to take a more decisive role in organising a defence that still looks like they are adjusting to controlling a game with three at the back.
On an individual level, Ross Doohan will undoubtedly be chomping at the bit for an opportunity, so after trading the gloves with Nathan Baxter last season Laidlaw could do with a commanding clean sheet to alleviate any pressure that may build on his place in the side.
Arbroath: Michael McKenna – if any member of the Arbroath side will be confident going into tonight's match at the Global Energy Stadium, it will be McKenna after the midfielder scored a hat trick last time the teams met.
The 29-year-old has been one of several subject to rotation so far in the Betfred Cup this season, starting Saturday's victory over Montrose on the bench, so he should be due a return to the starting line-up in Dingwall.
He will be hoping that he can peak against the Staggies one more time and help his side into the next round.
Ross County manager Stuart Kettlewell's pre-match thoughts
“To my money they are probably the strongest part-time club in the country. They have got experience and quality – and a wily old fox as a manager.
“I have got a huge amount of respect for all Dick has done, for all his promotions and how he has been able to build teams that have been successful.
“You look at how much his players respect him, and he always seem to have a good group of guys around him.
“My generation at times scoff at older managers and maybe question their age and their idea of football, but I can safely say Dick is someone I’ve got a massive amount of respect for.
"We played at Arbroath in this competition and made several changes to our team two years ago. I think we still went on to win the group, but it was a sore one for us. These guys showed the quality they have."