SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Sat 24 January, 2015. Kick Off: - 15:00
Rugby Park, Kilmarnock
Alan Archibald had to deal with a lively dressing room this week after such a stunning display on Wednesday night. The Thistle manager spoke to ptfc.co.uk about how preparations were going for Saturday’s clash with Kilmarnock.
“The boys certainly all had a spring in their step when they came in on Thursday, but you’d expect that given how Wednesday night went. It was a fantastic performance and result and the lads have been on good form since.
“The important thing is that we remember we have been here before. We’ve had some fantastic results this season but not followed them up and we just need to make sure we make the most of Wednesday night by winning on Saturday. We can go above Kilmarnock if we win and I don’t think there can be any greater incentive than that for the boys going into Saturday.”
More than anything else, Wednesday night brought a real belief to the Thistle camp.
“Wednesday night really brought everything together. You saw everything click. We know what we’re good at and we just need to play to our strengths, if we do that we can get results like we did this week. We’ll be looking for more of the same against Kilmarnock and if we can get that we have a great chance.”
The last time Thistle played at Rugby Park it was one of the team’s worst performances this season, a fact the manager is well aware of.
“It was our worst performance of the season, the players know that as well. Some of it was down to the pitch, or rather the player’s attitude towards it. I don’t think their heads were ready for it the last time, they don’t have that excuse this time as we’ve been training on astro for more than a month now because of the weather.
“Don’t take anything away from Kilmarnock though, they were very good that day. All we can do is prepare in the best way and make sure the players are ready to go out there and get the win. The most disappointing thing the last time was that we didn’t play as well as we know we can, Saturday is a great chance to put that right.”
The one blot on the copy book from Wednesday was yet another injury for club captain, Sean Welsh.
“Sean has had absolutely no luck at all. We’re all gutted for him. He was about to hit a 30 yard pass and the player has just clipped his ankle and Sean has kicked the ground pretty hard. His ankle blew up straight away and he went home with a boot and on crutches as a precaution. He’s out for Saturday and we just have to hope it isn’t too serious. We’ll do everything we can to help him and hopefully have him back soon. He’s a big player for us and we’ve missed him for a long time now but it looks like it’s back to square one for him for now.
“In terms of the rest of the team we should just about be back to full strength. Bannigan is back from his suspension and Gary Fraser seems to have shifted the illness he has been struggling with. Freddie Frans was a little stiff after Wednesday but he hasn’t played football for a good few weeks now so that is to be expected and he should be fine for Saturday.”
After the midweek thumping of Hamilton Accies, confidence was high in the Thistle camp as they headed down to Ayrshire to face Kilmarnock. Revenge was on the Jags’ minds as they looked to avenge their 3-0 defeat earlier in the season on the artificial surface at Rugby Park.
Unsurprisingly manager, Alan Archibald, made no changes to the starting eleven from the 5-0 midweek victory, showing faith with the players who had delivered so emphatically. On the bench, Gary Fraser returned from illness while Stuart Bannigan returned from suspension to book his place on the bench, both replacing the injured Sean Welsh and David Wilson respectively.
It was Kilmarnock who kicked the game off, shooting into the large Jags travelling support, but within 70 seconds it was Thistle who opened the scoring. Some great play by Higginbotham wide left saw his scissor kick pass find Craigen who squared the ball to Stevenson at the edge of the box. Stevo cut onto his left foot and fired low past Samson from 20 yards to make it 1-0. A terrific start for Thistle with the goal coming before the clock even clicked onto two minutes.
It was the visitors who continued to press forward, pushing the home side back in the opening stages, the Kilmarncok defence struggling to clear a Higginbotham free kick, Ashcroft eventually scrambling the ball clear.
In the seventh minute it really should have been two. Higginbotham’s corner found the unmarked Doolan at the back post, but the striker could only head into the side netting when he should have hit the target. Thistle then broke, from a rare Kilmarncok attack, through Stevenson and his cross found Doolan. The four goal hero of Wednesday night couldn’t replicate his midweek magic though and was crowded out by the home defence giving Pascali the chance to clear.
Thistle were enjoying lots of possession and closing down well in midfield throughout the opening quarter of the game. Another Stevenson cross was cleared at the back post as Lawless lurked with intent and Craigen saw a 25 yard powerful shot cleared off the six yard line.
Gradually the home side came into the game as the half ticked on, and Clingan was not too far away with a spectacular 25 yard dipping volley. A Stevenson header was gathered easily by Samson while, at the other end, Muirhead beat Gallacher to a corner and his header drifted wide.
The in demand Stephen O’Donnell, who looked dangerous throughout, then produced a marvellous piece of skill down the right to leave Chantler on his backside. The young full back then fired a great driven cross which Samson could only parry but there was no Jags player alert to pounce on the loose ball.
A quick corner then saw Stevenson’s cross find the fresh air swipe from Doolan before Lawless fired over well over.
The home side drew level in the 33rd minute. Stevenson lost possession 30 yards from the Kilmarnock goal and Slater drove forward and found McKenzie who in turn passed to Magennis and his 23 yard shot found the bottom corner to make it 1-1.
The home side had the ball in the net again before the break, but it was rightly adjudged offside. Just on half time Muirhead fired a 30 yard effort that went narrowly wide as the teams left the field with the score 1-1 at the break.
Thistle started brightly in the second half and O’Donnell cut inside and saw his left foot shot deflected just wide. O’Donnell was again involved with a good Thistle move, he left his man for dead and found Doolan whose lay off was fired over by Stevenson.
Craigen who was busy and productive all day then lifted the ball over the bar, under pressure after Doolan couldn’t quite control the ball in the box. Pascali then won a header in the Jags’ box and McKenzie fired inches wide from five yards.
Higginbotham saw Samson easily save his curling effort from 25 yards, then Muirhead went down in the box under a challenge, it looked a certain penalty but referee Collum ignored claims. Thistle had another claim for a penalty when Obadeyi’s high boot almost took O’Donnell’s head off, again nothing given.
In the 78th minute, Killie took the lead. Having not dealt with cross balls well all day Pascali scored after a header back across goal to make it 2-1 Kilmarnock.
All was not lost and, in the 84th minute, Thistle were level. Bannigan’s free kick found Osman under pressure, the ball broke to McDaid who had no hesitation in volleying towards goal. Young Declan’s shot looked to be going wide but Frederic Frans stuck out a foot to divert the ball away from Samson and into the net, his first Jags goal making it 2-2. Higginbotham saw his curling free kick saved in injury time but a draw was a fair result overall and it finished 2-2.
Thistle: Gallacher, Elliott (Fraser), Seaborne, Frans, Elliott, Osman, Craigen, Higginbotham, Stevenson (Bannigan), Lawless (McDaid), Doolan
Subs: Basalaj, Balatoni, Bannigan (58), Eccleston, Fraser (63), McDaid (76), Keenan
It was a content Alan Archibald who spoke with ptfc.co.uk shortly after the conclusion of Saturday’s match.
“I was really pleased with the first 20 minutes. I thought we were a real threat which and I think that was what carried on from the other night.
“After that spell I thought Kilmarnock were better than us for the rest of the first half, certainly. They’ve increased the tempo and we’ve played three games this week, which maybe showed. That said it was a great fight back. I was delighted to get a goal so soon after falling behind”
Archie was keen not use fatigue as an excuse for why Thistle did not emerge with three points.
“I think Kilmarnock had two games while we’ve had three. It’s an easy excuse at times because the first 20 minutes we created a number of chances and we’ve got to take them. We certainly won’t be hiding behind the number of minutes we’ve played.
“I was pleased with the character the lads showed and the way we fought back. Just now it feels like a good point but it’ll probably not seem that way when I reflect on it through the week.”
Ryan Stevenson continued his fine run of form by notching an early goal for Thistle.
“It was a great goal from Ryan. He did really well and long may it continue. He’s on fire at the moment. He’s been playing really well linking with Doolan and the pair of them look a real threat.”
Ryan was withdrawn just before the hour mark and we asked Archie if he had picked up a knock.
“It was a tactical change. They were getting the better in midfield and I thought we had to change it. We put Stuart Bannigan on and then Christie Elliott got injured so it didn’t really help. We had to drop Stuart back into left back, bringing on Gary Fraser in the middle. I also brought on young Declan McDaid and he gave us a lift with his pace and energy. They couldn’t really cope with him at times.”
Thistle went behind late on, but rallied to secure a point through Frederic Frans’ late goal.
“I think it says a lot about my squad. Kilmarnock are a hard team to play against. They played really well in second half and it took a set play to unlock us. It showed great character and desire to keep going and get the equalising goal.”