SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Sat 27 September, 2014. Kick Off: - 15:00
Rugby Park, Kilmarnock
After a late extra time victory against St Mirren in the Scottish League Cup on Tuesday night, it’s back to Premiership action on Saturday as the Jags travel the short distance to Rugby Park to take on Kilmarnock.
Obviously the first main talking point was the League Cup quarter final draw, Thistle being rewarded with an away trip to Celtic for all their hard work on Tuesday night. Archie told ptfc.co.uk what he thought of the draw.
“The draw is what it is. We would have liked a home tie first and foremost, and not one against the reigning champions, but we’ll certainly give it our best. Teams have been getting some joy from Celtic recently and you don’t always know what you’re going to get. T’s something to look forward to and we’ll make it our cup final.
“The competition as a whole has been a big incentive for us this season and we’ve been telling the players exactly that. All you have to do is win a couple of games and you’re in a semi-final and it’s a real chance to win a trophy. When you look at the teams that have won it in recent years there is absolutely no reason why Thistle can’t go on and do the same.”
Looking forward to Kilmarnock the word on Archie’s lips is momentum.
“We spoke after the Inverness game and ahead of the St Mirren league game about the importance of getting back to back wins and generating some momentum, that’s exactly what we’ll be looking to do come Saturday.
“We showed on Tuesday night that we can win scrappily when we have to. Make no mistake, that was a hard fought 1-0 victory. Yes we are always looking to play good football but, sometimes, the win is more important and we need to show we can win the ugly games too and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“If we’re going to start moving up the table and looking above us rather than over our shoulder these are the games we need to be winning. The games against teams, like Kilmarnock, that are also looking to kick on and challenge for the top half finish that we all want.”
Alan knows it is going to be a tight league, and sees the Friday night St Mirren game as an example of how, after just a couple of mistakes, a game can change completely.
“There are going to be a lot of games this season that sway on just a couple of mistakes, just like that St Mirren game. We need to work as hard as we can to make sure we’re taking advantage of others’ mistakes rather than the other way around.”
After a tough season for Kilmarnock last term the Thistle boss knows that the Ayrshire side are a real threat now.
“They’ve totally turned round their whole squad. They’ve got a very different look to their team now with pace and power about them and I think Allan Johnston has strengthened very very well. They have threat in the wide areas and have the ability to cause teams real problems. At the end of the day they’ll be looking to do exactly the same as us, they’ll be eying the top half of the league and aiming to put a run of results together.
“They’ll be the same as us, targeting three points at home, but we are targeting this as a game that we can hopefully get three points from.”
This will be Thistle’s first experience of the new artificial pitches that have been introduced to the Scottish Premiership this season. Despite the controversy around the new surfaces Alan know his players have no excuse.
“We trained on astro all last season so our players have absolutely no excuse and they know that. We trained on it on Thursday and Friday but our whole training schedule was on the astro last year so it really is nothing new to us and I won’t let them use it as an excuse.”
There are a couple of niggles in the squad but Archibald aims to give them every chance of making the team come Saturday.
“We do have a couple of wee niggles actually. Stevenson and Higginbotham both picked up ankle knocks. They’re big players for us and we’ll give them every chance of making the squad but we’ll just have to wait and see. Sean Welsh started taking part in some light training with the team this week which was brilliant to see, even if he is still a way off making his return, and Gary Fraser is continuing with the rehab for his knee injury.”
Thistle made the short journey down the M77 to Kilmarnock on Saturday for our first visit to Ayrshire of the season. It was also the first time the Jags had to experience the new artificial pitch at Rugby Park.
Hopes were high among the travelling support, with the team coming into the game on the back of a positive result against St Mirren in the League Cup.
Manager Alan Archibald made one change to the starting line up from Tuesday night’s cup victory, with Ryan Stevenson, recovering from an ankle knock, starting in place of James Craigen. Kallum Higginbotham also recovered from an ankle knock to take his place in the starting eleven, despite media reports that neither would play.
The home side were on the front foot early in the game and Eremenko, who was excellent throughout the match, crossed in from a corner only to see Westlake put his effort wide under pressure from the Jags defence. A delightful ball in behind Carroll, again from Eremenko, then found Johnston whose dangerous ball across the six yard box was scrambled clear by the Thistle defence.
It was Eremenko who claimed all the post-match plaudits and quite rightly as he found Josh Magennis next who in turn played the ball back to Johnston who saw the chance disappear ass he was crowded out by the Thistle defence.
Captain, Ryan Stevenson, was the first of the Thistle team to get a real chance away when he tried his luck from 30 yards but, unlike his later attempt, there was no power in his shot and Samson saved easily. Thistle did come closer to breaking the deadlock when Doolan found Lawless. The wee winger cut inside and created space for a shot from the edge of the box. Again though Samson, the Killie keeper, was equal to it but could only parry his shot into the path of the quick thinking Doolan. Dools got an effort away from close range but somehow the home keeper recovered well to make the second save.
Eremenko was back in the thick of it before half time whipping in a cross which Carroll did well to clear before a vital touch from Balatoni prevented another Eremenko pass finding Obadeyi.
It was to be the home side that opened the scoring though. Hamill’s pass found Barbour with acres of space to deliver an inch perfect cross with which Obadeyi made no mistake to make it 1-0.
It was only a fantastic piece of defending from Balatoni which prevented Obadeyi getting a chance to make it two – the Thistle centre half taking the ball off the striker to prevent him going one on one with Fox.
As half time approached there was nearly an equaliser for the Jags when Stevenson smashed a 25 yard effort off the Killie crossbar with Samson beaten.
There was a blow for the Jags before the break when Seaborne had to be replaced by Muirhead after a nasty clash of heads left him with a deep gash above his eye. Magennis then outmuscled Muirhead but the angle was tight and Fox saved. Higginbotham went just inches wide with a 22 yard effort but it remained 1-0 to the home side at half time.
Christie Elliott replaced the injured Higginbotham at half time and at the start of the second half Thistle controlled possession without creating a clear cut chance.
Eremenko started the second half as he had ended the first, forcing a corner from which the home side would double their lead. The Finnish international delivered the cross and perfectly for the unmarked Pascali who was in the right place to head home.
It was to get worse for the visitors when, in the 56th minute, Killie increased their lead.
Obadeyi collected Eremenko’s pass wide and was allowed to cut inside onto his right foot and fire a low powerful shot past Fox at his near post from 16 yards out.
The home side continued to press forward against a Thistle side under pressure. Barbour then found Eremenko whose shot was saved by Fox while Pascali then got another header on target which Fox saved again.
As the game ticked on there was very little coming from Thistle although a quicker through ball from Elliott might have found substitute, Eccleston, but he was offside
There were a couple more chances for Killie with Magennis firing over, having done well to create space for himself and Balatoni did well to stop N’Goo getting a shot on target. As the final whistle went though, the Jags found themselves well beaten and an Eremenko inspired Kilmarnock finished the game 3-0 up.
After a poor result at RugbyPark, ptfc.co.uk spoke to an understandably disappointed Alan.
“I think the game maybe swung on the double save in the first half, we made some good chances in the first half but didn’t take them. They were more clinical than us and that showed in the score line.
“We’ve defended crosses quite well this season so I was disappointed with the way we defended for the goals. But, at the end of the day, a game turns on chances and we’ve had a couple of good chances in the first half that we haven’t taken. We have to start making our chances count when we’re on top.”
Eremenko took many of the post math plaudits and Alan could see his team gave him too much room.
“Particularly in the second half I think we gave him too much space but I was more disappointed with the reaction from our lads. After the break we didn’t really hurt them at all. I thought a few of them felt sorry for themselves today. I know we had a long night on Tuesday but that is no excuse. We made it too easy for Kilmarnock today.”
When asked about the Kilmarnock pitch Archie had no complaints.
“It maybe takes a bit more out of the legs but it had no impact on the result today. I said before the game that we wouldn’t be using that as an excuse so I won’t now and I won’t let the players either.”
Both Dan Seaborne and Kallum Higginbotham had to come off due to injury but the seriousness of the issue, particularly for the latter remains unclear.
“Dan has obviously got a cut above his eye and it was just too deep for him to play on with – he could hardly see out of it. Kallum has done something to his knee but we aren’t sure how serious it is yet so we’ll just have to wait and see.”