SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Wed 3 December, 2014. Kick Off: - 19:45
Thistle made the short journey along the M8 to play champions, Celtic, in a rearranged game postponed from the opening day of the season. With both teams progressed comfortably through the Scottish Cup at the weekend and Thistle going into the match looking for a much improved performance from their last visit Celtic Park the stage was set for a tight encounter.
Jags’ manager, Alan Archibald, was dealt a major blow before the game when Dan Seaborne, Frederic Frans and Christie Elliott all failed fitness tests and had to miss out. This meant Aaron Muirhead, Conrad Balatoni and James Craigen all came in to the starting eleven. Jordan McMillan, Sean Welsh and Liam Lindsay all returned to the bench to accompany Scott Fox, Declan McDaid, Steven Lawless and Kris Doolan.
It was Celtic who kicked the game off and it was the home team that were the first on to the front foot. Tonev burst through wide from an Ambrose long ball but he miskicked his attempted cross and the move came to an abrupt end. Celtic, as expected, enjoyed the bulk of the early possession, but Thistle’s O’Donnell collected a loose pass from the home side’s Johansen and burst forward Thistle looked dangerous. O’Donnell got his head up but delayed too long before playing the pass to Stevenson who had strayed offside by the time it was played.
It was Tonev again minutes later who smashed a great 20 yard effort which Gallacher did well to palm away as Celtic started to turn the screw on Thistle. Gallacher then produced another good save from Van Dijk’s 25 yard shot, the Jags’ keeper having to be alert to keep the scores level.
Having been under the cosh for the opening period of play Thistle then enjoyed some possession of their own. A great O’Donnell run forcing a Jags corner. Higginbotham took the set piece which found O’Donnell, who frequently looked dangerous in the first half, but his low angled drive was saved by Gordon who had to hold on tight with Stevenson waiting to pounce on any scraps.
Thistle then came very close to opening the scoring. O’Donnell was fouled out on the right and Bannigan swung in a great curling ball, Osman rose highest and his glancing header clipped the top of the bar with Gordon beaten.
A stalwart, albeit makeshift, Jags defence had done well to keep the cores and the score remained 0-0 at half time.
Into the second half and a lovely Van Dijk through ball, found Tonev’s run perfectly, he cut across Muirhead and got round Gallacher but fired his angled effort into the side netting when really he should have opened the scoring. At the other end O’Donnell saw a shot blocked while Bannigan’s free kick was saved by Gordon.
Having held off the home side for an hour Thistle would finally go a goal down in the 60th minute. Johansen curled a free kick into the box, Van Dijk and Muirhead went up for the ball but it broke luckily to the Celtic man who volleyed smartly home at the second attempt. It was frustrating for Thistle as the Jags had defended set pieces well up until that point.
What was good to see was that Thistle heads didn’t drop, in fact they could perhaps of got a quick equaliser when Balatoni broke up a Celtic attack and burst forward, finding substitute, Kris Doolan, with his pass. Banz continued his run and Doolan’s cross into the box found Balatoni whose header flashed just wide. Fraser then saw a 25 yard effort comfortably saved by Gordon before Celtic hit back with Commons forcing Gallacher into a brilliant point blank save from just six yards out.
With four minutes remaining a McDaid cross found Doolan who acrobatically volleyed his low effort on target only to see Gordon produce a magnificent low full stretch save to keep the home side ahead. The last chance of the game fell to young rising star McDaid who saw his shot blocked after great combined work by O’Donnell and Doolan.
Celtic ran out 1-0 winners, but it was a much improved performance by the Jags. Gallacher kept us in it at times but we definitely had our fair share of chances and it took a world class save from a world calss keeper at the end to prevent an equaliser.
Thistle squad: Gallacher, Carroll, Muirhead, Balatoni, O’Donnell, Osman, Bannigan, Higginbotham, Fraser, Craigen, Stevenson
Subs: Fox, Welsh, Doolan (Stevenson, 61), Lawless (Higginbotham, 72), McMillan, McDaid (Bannigan, 80), Lindsay
After a hard fought match for Thistle Alan Archibald took a lot of positives from Wednesday night’s game against Celtic, even though the match ultimately ended in defeat.
“I thought we did well and frustrated Celtic at times. Gal is going to have to make saves in a game like that and he did have to pull off some top class stops – but we expected that and he did his job very very well.
“We settled quickly into the game and kept it tight for the first 15 or 20 minutes. That first quarter of the game is all important and if you concede early it’s easy for heads to drop, but we didn’t do that today which I was pleased to see.”
Although Thistle came under heavy pressure at times, it certainly wasn’t a backs to the wall job and Archie was pleased with how the ball was passed around at times.
“I was quite happy with how we passed the ball at times and that made us a couple of decent chances. Abdul had one in the first half from a header where perhaps he should have done better.
“There’s no doubt there were positives to take from that performance tonight but it was disappointing that the goal we lost was a scrappy one and we should have done better with it. We were a bit too deep and we should defend it better at the first time of asking – I think that’s probably the biggest frustration of the night.
“Having said that I thought our attitude tonight was very good. It’s easy to come here and just sit right in and defend but we didn’t do that tonight. We tried to play when we could and I think we caused them a few problems as well.”
It was a different looking back four as Conrad Balatoni came in for the injured Frederic Frans and Aaron Muirhead got a late call to replace Dan Seaborne who phoned in with a sickness bug.
“There were three boys missing from Saturday’s line up and the two defenders were late call offs as well so I was really pleased with how Aero and Conrad came in did. Considering how little time they had to prepare I thought they did ever so well.”
Some of the travelling support thought the Jags had nicked a point late on as an acrobatic effort from Kris Doolan was well saved by Celtic custodian, Craig Gordon.
“It was a good cross into the box and Doolan did well to get the effort away. That just shows the quality of Craig Gordon though. He has pretty much been a spectator for most of the game and pulls out a world class save in the last five or so minutes to make sure they took all three points.”