AFTER last season’s great escape, Ross County will be hoping that they can avoid any form of a relegation battle this term.
John Hughes came to the rescue after he was brought in to replace Stuart Kettlewell in December when the Staggies were rooted to the bottom of the Premiership table.
It was a surprise that Hughes didn’t keep his job after guiding the Highland outfit to safety, but instead chairman Roy McGregor opted to bring in Malky Mackay for the new season.
Preparations have been far from ideal for Mackay’s first season in charge with a major Covid-19 outbreak forcing the club to forfeit two of their League Cup group stage matches.
Qualification for the knockouts came at a cost, but recent wins over Brora Rangers and Montrose will give the Staggies confidence going into the new season.
Mackay has admitted that it has been a tough start to managerial life in Dingwall, but he has assured fans that his team will be raring to go against St Johnstone on the opening weekend of the campaign.
He explained: “We got back into it last week with two games and we’ve had a full run of it this week. It’s back to being a normal week in preparation for the weekend.
“It was great having the game here against Montrose on Saturday in front of our fans and to get the feel of the stadium with the fans in. It was good to get the team back on to the grass. The pitch is looking excellent – all credit to our groundsman, Davie Fraser.
“It was a really convincing win against a team that really came to press us and try to win the game themselves. I was delighted with that. That presented a different challenge from the Brora tie. We had both ends of the spectrum last week.
“We lost a couple of Premier Sports Cup games which we had to forfeit, but throughout the last six weeks there is nothing that could be done about the Covid situation. It’s a wider issue and we’ve seen other clubs having to forfeit games as well.
“The players just got on with it. They came in and trained very well since day one. Their attitudes have been fantastic. It has been an absolute pleasure to train them.”
There has been quite an overhaul of players at the Global Energy Arena this summer with fourteen exiting the club and just five being brought in.
Mackay has already hinted at further signings before the August window closes, but his business so far has been impressive.
The signing of Ross Callachan is a huge coup for the club given his season at Hamilton Accies last term.
Despite Brian Rice’s team being relegated to the Championship, Callachan was a standout and his goals and assist numbers were to be admired.
County lacked a creative flare in their team last season and fans will be hoping that the 27-year-old can step up to that mantle and produce the goods for a second season running.
Dominic Samuel also looks a handy addition and has already made an impression during the League Cup group stages.
Samuel departed English League One outfit Gillingham at the end of the season after just one campaign back at Priestfield where he netted three goals in 22 appearances.
There is no doubt Samuel is capable of scoring goals going by his past records and he has already explained how he wants to prove a point during his time in Scotland.
Goals will be key for County next term if they want to avoid a relegation scrap so there will be a lot of pressure on Samuel and co to find the back of the net.
Mackay still has a bit of work to do in the closing days of the summer transfer window and he will need to bring in some big signings if he wants to keep the club away from the foot of the table.
Arsenal defender Harry Clarke is expected to make the move north and he could prove to an important defensive figure moving forward.
Clarke started his career at Ipswich Town’s youth system, but moved to the Gunners in 2015. During that time he has represented England at under 17 level and spent last term on loan at Oldham Athletic, where he made 33 appearances.
Mackay will have to hit the ground running at County with some supporters still questioning his appointment.
In 2014, the former SFA performance director apologised for sending texts during his Cardiff City tenure that were “disrespectful of other cultures”.
He faced no action after an FA investigation, but there were still concerns from some corners of the Staggies support after his appointment.
Mackay’s appointment in Dingwall is his first full-time managerial role since being sacked by Wigan Athletic six years ago.
The 49-year-old will be hoping that his team can do the business on the park to win over all of the loyal Dingwall support.
NEED TO KNOW
Manager: Malky Mackay
Captain: Keith Watson
Key player: Ross Callachan. Was a bright spark in a poor season for Hamilton Accies last term and the Staggies did well to persuade him to come north. He netted nine goals from central midfield last term and Mackay will hoping that he can produce the same kind of numbers for his new side.
It seems like Callachan is a player who needs a prolonged period in a starting XI. Had spells at both Hearts and St Johnstone but failed to make a huge impact due to being in and out the team. If given the game time he could be a big player for the Highlanders.
In: Ross Callachan (Hamilton Accies), Dominic Samuel (Gillingham), Alex Robertson (Manchester City, loan), Jake Vokins (Southampton, loan), David Cancola (Slovan Liberec).
Out: Ross Draper (Cove Rangers), Michael Gardyne (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Jermaine Hylton (Newport County), Billy McKay (Inverness Caledonian Thistle), Callum Morris (Morpeth Town), Jason Naismith (Kilmarnock), Iain Vigurs (Cove Rangers), Joe Hilton (Blackburn Rovers, end of loan), Leo Hjelde (Celtic, end of loan), Stephen Kelly (Rangers, end of loan), Charlie Lakin (Birmingham City, end of loan), Carl Tremarco (retired), Tony Andreu, Mohamed Maouche.
Last season: Survived by the skin of their teeth thanks to a late surge under the leadership of John Hughes. The 56-year-old replaced Stuart Kettlewell in December with the side bottom of the division and he did well to steer County to safety.