Ross County Season Preview: Can the Staggies survive back in the top flight?
County in action during their most recent top flight spell. Source:GettyImages

After returning to the SPFL at the first time of asking, Ross County will be hoping to cement their place in the top flight once again. Despite being ‘new boys’, the Dingwall side is packed with top-flight experience. Ian Vigurs and Ross Draper have over a decade of SPFL playing time between them, while Northern Ireland international Billy McKay and Ross Graham have proven themselves at the top level before. While former Scotland midfielder Don Cowie is now well into his thirties, he remains a class act. After an excellent Betfred Cup group stage, the Staggies will be looking to carry their form into the new league season.

Transfer Business

Despite plenty of ins and outs at Victoria Park this season, the Dingwall side have yet to spend or receive a penny (Jamie Lindsay’s unresolved transfer to Rotherham United notwithstanding), with free transfers and loans comprising the vast majority of business so far. Former Motherwell, Leeds United and Kilmarnock forward Lee Erwin is perhaps the highest-profile signing of the summer, with the much-travelled 24-year-old arriving from Iranian side Tractor Sazi. Left-back Joe Chalmers ‘crosses the bridge’ to join from Inverness Caledonian Thistle, while Blair Spittal arrives from Patrick Thistle to bolster the midfield. Fellow midfielder Simon Power, meanwhile, comes to County from English Premiership new boys Norwich City on loan for 2019/20.

At the back, it’s all change in goal at Victoria Park this season. With the departure of the long-serving Scott Fox to Partick, the Staggies have brought in no fewer than three senior keepers. 21-year-old Jack Ruddy joins after being released from Wolves, while Ross Laidlaw arrives on a two-year deal from Hibs. Chelsea youngster Nathan Baxter also comes in on a season-long loan deal.

Aside from the aforementioned Fox, County will surely miss influential midfielder Jamie Lindsay, who has joined League One Rotherham for an undisclosed fee. Englishman Callum Semple has joined Queen of the South, while the appropriately named Russell Dingwall has joined Elgin City. Striker Greg Morrison has dropped further down the Scottish pyramid to join Brora Rangers of the Highland League.

Early Season Form

Hugely encouraging. The Dingwall side comprehensively beat Montrose and Brechin in the Betfred Cup, as well as easing past Forfar and turning over fellow SPFL side St Johnstone away from home to top their group. While cynics may point to the relative weakness of three of the four of those opponents, County undeniably had a far better group stage than many of their more illustrious and better-funded SPFL rivals. The Victoria Park side will now look to carry this momentum into the new league season, and may well be looking to take inspiration from newly-promoted Livingston’s strong start to 2018/19. 

Player To Watch: Lee Erwin

Despite being a familiar face to Scottish football supporters, new signing Erwin perhaps represents the biggest unknown quantity. After a turbulent season in Iran - described by the player as akin to being in prison - in which he had few first-team opportunities but still managed to bag a seven-minute hat-trick, the Bellshill-born striker arrives back in Scotland seeking to re-grow his reputation. Once tipped by former manager Ian Baraclough to be a regular for the national side, a rejuvenated and newly mature Erwin could provide the goals to secure the Highland club’s SPFL future. 

One For The Future: Simon Power

Norwich City’s decision to award Simon Power a new three-year contract upon winning promotion to the English Premiership surely suggests they see a bright future for the 21-year-old midfielder. The Irishman, who was loaned to Dordrecht in the Dutch second tier last season, arrives at Victoria Park on loan for the 2019/20 campaign. Staggies fans will no doubt be hoping he can have a similar impact to fellow former Norwich player James Maddison, who also grew his reputation as a loanee in the SPFL with Aberdeen.

Predicted Finish

As with nearly all newly promoted sides, County will be focused solely on avoiding relegation. While little more is expected of them (top six is highly unlikely), this looks like a very realistic prospect. While Livingston are many people’s tip to go down this season, the Dingwall side will surely have taken heed of Livi’s stunning start to the previous campaign, which effectively saw them safe from relegation before Christmas. Although few expect County to hit those heights, anywhere above 11th will be considered a success, with 8th or 9th an achievable goal.