THEY were the outright favourites for relegation last term, but Ross County impressed and proved a lot of people wrong with their campaign performance.

It did not start well for the Highlanders, and after ten games they were still without a win and had only picked up three draws.

The pressure was mounting on Malky Mackay, but the Dingwall manager deserves major credit for his quickfire turnaround.

A first top-six finish since 2016 would follow and they were unlucky not to pick up a European place as they battled the likes of Dundee United and Motherwell all the way.

The failure to land a European spot was a blow for Mackay and was a setback to the club’s hopes of tying down some of their prized assets on longer-term deals.

Star performers Regan Charles-Cook and Joseph Hungbo have both departed the club this summer and they will be a huge loss given their impressive impact last term.

Charles-Cook ended the season as the joint top scorer in the league and his goals will be missed by County after he headed for Belgium with KAS Eupen.

Midfielder Blair Spittal will also be a loss as he linked up with Premiership rivals Motherwell. The former Partick Thistle man was captain for large parts of last season and was a constant name on the teamsheet in the middle of the park.

Despite some key losses, County have added well this summer and they appear to have signed in the positions that needed strengthening upon the end of last season.

Yan Dhanda looks a tricky addition in midfield while, William Akio has joined his brother Victor in Dingwall.

The 23-year-old South Sudan international has agreed a three-year deal, after scoring 10 goals in 43 appearances for Canadian outfit Valour.

Kazeem Olaigbe has moved to the Highlands on loan from Southampton, while Owura Edwards is on a temporary switch from Bristol City.

Forward Jordy Hiwula, who joined from Doncaster Rovers, has also looked sharp since his summer arrival and he has already found the net twice during the Premier Sports Cup group stage campaign.

Another who could be a key figure this term is midfielder Josh Sims. He joined the club last February, but injuries and health problems have plagued his first few months in Dingwall.

The 25-year-old moved to County following his exit from Southampton where he was billed as one of the next big things at St Marys.

Sims has also spent time on loan at New York Red Bulls so has plenty of experience and will be hoping to get his career back on track under the leadership of Mackay.

Ross Callachan is another who will have an important role to play this coming season. The former Hearts and St Johnstone man appears to have found a home in the Highlands and is playing some of his best football to date.

His midfield goals and versatility add a much-needed spark to the middle of the park for the Staggies.

Further additions could come in, but going by Mackay’s recent comments, he seems satisfied with the squad he has built.

He said recently: “There are options coming off the bench that are as strong as what’s coming off the pitch.”

County will find it difficult to replicate their form of last year with the likes of Aberdeen and Hibernian sure to improve.

But after landing a top-six spot, they will have a taste for it again and it would not come as much of a shock if they were to edge their way back in there.

Mackay has recruited well, and the club seem in a good place, with players mostly joining on permanent long-term contracts, instead of loan deals.

This shows the club’s intent to build a squad for seasons to come and the signs are that something special is brewing up north.

If success continues to come under Mackay there will be sure to be interest in the former Cardiff City and Watford manager and County will do well to hold onto him.

There was doubt surrounding the former Scotland caretaker when he was confirmed as manager and some fans were unsure of the appointment.

But Mackay has certainly proved that he has what it takes to build an impressive side that is more than capable of competing at the top end of Scotland’s top division.


Manager: Malky Mackay

Captain: Keith Watson

Key player: Josh Sims. Was signed in February but struggled with a series of injury and health problems. Has gained minutes this pre-season and looks like he could really be a handy addition. Has a wealth of experience after spending time with Southampton and New York Red Bulls.

In: William Akio, forward (Valour); Victor Loturi, midfielder (Cavalry); Yan Dhanda, midfielder (Swansea City); Ben Purrington, defender (Charlton Athletic); Callum Johnson, defender (Portsmouth); Jordy Hiwula, forward (Doncaster Rovers); George Harmon, defender (Oxford City).

Loan in: Kazeem Olaigbe, midfielder (Southampton); Jake Eastwood, goalkeeper (Sheffield United); Owura Edwards, midfielder (Bristol City).

Out: Regan Charles-Cooke, forward (Eupen); Blair Spittal, midfielder (Motherwell); Coll Donaldson, defender (Falkirk); Harry Paton, midfielder; Ben Williamson, defender.

Loan ended: Joseph Hungbo, midfielder (Watford); Jake Vokins, defender (Southampton); Kayne Ramsay, defender (Southampton); Jack Burroughs, midfielder (Coventry City); Declan Drysdale, defender (Coventry City); Ashley Maynard-Brewer, goalkeeper (Charlton Athletic).

Loan out: Logan Ross, goalkeeper (Lossiemouth).

Last season: Narrowly missed out on European football last term, but overall an impressive season given a poor start. A top-six finish was new territory for the Staggies and they deserved it over the piece. A big part of their success was through Regan Charles-Cook and Joseph Hungbo.

Odds: 1000/1