IT WAS a productive January transfer window for many Scottish clubs, including the top three in the Championship. Dundee United pretty much signed an entire new team, while Ayr United added smartly for a club with their resources.

And even though Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson managed to retain a very strong-looking squad following last season’s relegation from the Premiership, an injury crisis at the back forced Ross County to dip into the transfer market as well.

While the additions of Daniel Armstrong and Lewis Spence will provide competition from middle to front, defensive reinforcements were required after centre-halfs Liam Fontaine and Callum Morris sustained lengthy injuries. Several other defenders have been in and out of the side with various afflictions.

It has meant that Keith Watson, who himself has struggled to stay fit in previous seasons, has been almost ever present at the heart of the defence.

Before Saturday’s victory over Dunfermline, in Championship matches alone this season, the Staggies had used somewhere in the region of four players in each full-back position and six different central defenders – goodness knows how many different back-four combinations that equates to.

Two more centre-backs were added in January and the County away support was given a glimpse of both on Saturday, though probably not in the way they expected. Callum Semple started the match alongside Watson though was removed at half-time after being given the runaround by Dunfermline’s new recruit Bruce Anderson – Semple’s shoulder is likely still aching from the Aberdeen loanee continuously hanging off it.

It was an out-of-character performance from the former Sheffield United defender, who spent the first half of the season on loan at Queen of the South. During that spell he was part of a side that secured two draws against County, and he was also part of a back four which prevented Ayr United’s Lawrence Shankland from scoring over the course of three matches.

However, he met his match in Anderson, whose instinct and intelligence to find space saw him carve out a number of first-half opportunities, one of which he put away, as he sensed Semple having an off-day.

With County behind at the break and their two closest rivals ahead in their respective matches, the pressure was on Kettlewell and Ferguson and they responded with a double substitution.

Semple was replaced by another debutant Andy Boyle, while Michael Gardyne was introduced in place of Declan McManus, meaning Billy Mckay was moved from the left to a central position in attack.

It worked a treat as not only did Anderson fail to get a sniff at goal from the new centre-back pairing, Mckay knocked home the equaliser before Gardyne applied a wonderful finish to win the game.

County have stuttered a little recently but with added depth to their side, if they can put together a settled defence for the rest of the campaign they remain strong favourites for an immediate return to the top flight.

East Fife left fizzing following Irn Bru Cup debacle

THE decision to call off East Fife’s Irn Bru Cup quarter-final trip to Bohemians minutes before kick-off has left those involved with serious questions to answer.

The match was due to be played in November but was postponed at the Irish side’s due to their winter shutdown. 

At the time of writing details of a rearranged fixture had not been forthcoming, though according to a report in the Daily Record, East Fife will not be asked to make the trip again regardless of the decision made by the SPFL. The semi-final of the competition is due to be played in 10 day’s time, leaving the authorities with little wiggle room and Ross County still in the dark as to who they will be facing.

The SPFL deserves praise for its revamping of the Betfred Cup but the cancellation of Saturday’s match is another blow to an already much-maligned tournament. Adding colt teams has been met with a mixed response at best, and while the cross-border element isn’t necessarily a poor decision, postponing a fixture for a matter of months has spectacularly backfired.

The National:

Questions must be asked of Bohemians and Irish FA too after claims by those at East Fife that no covers had been laid to protect the pitch from the low temperatures, and that many of the 300-400 travelling fans were allowed into the ground to spend money on refreshments and half-time draw tickets after the referee had supposedly already said that the game would not be going ahead.

Play-off may be the only hope for Albion Rovers

WHEN Motherwell loanee George Newell, pictured, fired Albion Rovers into the lead on his debut versus Edinburgh City there appeared to be a glimmer of hope for Kevin Harper’s men.

Alas, it was not to be, as the league leaders regained control before winning comfortably in the only League Two match to survive the latest cold snap to hit the country. 

The defeat leaves Rovers seven points adrift of ninth-placed Berwick and without a win in 14 matches in all competitions – 11 of those 14 have been defeats. An even more galling statistic is that they have won just once all season, while drawing four and losing on 22 occasions.

Clawing back that gap looks beyond the reaches of this side 
and the likelihood is that they will have to make do with taking their chances in the League Two play-off.

They can take some solace from the fact that in the last two seasons Cowdenbeath, after similarly dismal campaigns, managed to do just enough to stave off relegation.

The Blue Brazil showed some signs of life around March in both those seasons and something similar is require from the men from Cliftonhill if they are to either leapfrog Berwick or else instil some hope going into a tricky play-off situation.