Ross County manager John Hughes feels the Staggies are beginning to evolve into his desired style of play.
Hughes inherited a County side which sat at the foot of the table in December, however, a run of three wins from their last seven matches has pulled them four points clear of bottom-placed Hamilton Accies.
The Staggies will look to stretch that gap when they host Dundee United today.
John Hughes’ possession-based style is showing in Ross County’s games
After replacing Stuart Kettlewell, Hughes put an early focus on halting the Staggies’ leaking of goals.
Having now had nearly two months to work with the squad, as well as making five new additions in January, Hughes feels he is starting to implement his style on the Staggies.
Hughes’ teams have long been renowned for playing a possession-based game, with the most successful example coming at Caley Thistle when he transformed a side he inherited from Terry Butcher before leading them to Scottish Cup glory in 2015.
The statistics from Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Hamilton Accies show this is starting to take hold in Hughes’ County team, as the Highlanders build up their bid to escape relegation from the Premiership.
The Staggies had 64.8% of the possession in the crucial fixture against Accies, in which the Dingwall men had trailed for much of the game until Jordan White’s 81st minute equaliser.
The dominance of possession was also evident in the passing statistics, with County completing 522 passes compared to Accies’ 281, with Hughes’ side showing an impressive 77.8% passing accuracy compared with Hamilton’s 60.9%.
County were rewarded for their perseverance, with White and fellow substitute Billy Mckay netting the decisive goals after being among a raft of substitutions made by Hughes in the latter stages.
The changes proved crucial, as an Accies win would have left County bottom of the table going into today’s game.
The respective heatmaps show County enjoyed large swathes of possession in the middle to front area.
Hughes feels his side is now better equipped to play on the front foot against their opponents.
Hughes said: “All the hard work is starting to come to fruition.
“I said on numerous occasions when I first came in that it was a case of closing the back door, trying to keep a clean sheet and trying to nick games.
“I feel we are starting to evolve a little bit, with the players we have brought in.
“Jordan White is the focal point for us, which brings Oli Shaw and Billy Mckay into our thinking. I’ve had to tell Billy his chance will come.
“They have that foil now to play off second balls, which was evident when we got them all on to the pitch.
“Even when we made the substitutions, we were always on the front foot looking to win the game.
“The shape of the team is starting to evolve with the bodies that we’ve got in, and I think it suits us more.”
Staggies must stay grounded in survival battle
Hughes was thrilled with his side’s show of character in coming from behind to defeat Accies on Wednesday, but he is aiming to keep their feet on the ground as they look for just their third home league win against United.
Hughes added: “When you win it doesn’t last as long as when you get beat – because when that happens it lasts all week. I got the boys right back down to earth on Thursday.
“I said to one of two of them a few things weren’t good enough against Hamilton. We have another important game and their heads can’t be in the clouds thinking they are great after one win.
“The next challenge is to get back to back wins and turning our home form around. If we do that then we have a good chance of staying in the league.”
Seventh-placed United make the trip to Dingwall on the back of an eight-match winless run, with County able to narrow the gap to two points with a win against Micky Mellon’s side.
Hughes feels the standard of United’s squad is better than their recent form suggests, adding: “I’m a little bit surprised, because of the players they have at their disposal. A lot of their players would get a game here.
“When I was out the game I was doing stuff for BBC so I saw Dundee United. I have never met Micky Mellon, but from what I hear he is a good coach.
“We will look at their strengths and weaknesses, but it’s a game we look forward to.”