SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Sat 27 December, 2014. Kick Off: - 15:00
Fir Park Stadium
The Christmas week sees the Thistle boys prepare for a Saturday match away to Motherwell where three points could further stretch the gap between the Jags and the dreaded play-off spot. With the game being played on the 27th it also gives the players and manager a rare Christmas Day off – something Alan Archibald is veery much looking forward to.
“Yes, it’s very rare to get Christmas Day off, I don’t think I’ve had it in about 15 years. With the game being on the 27th it gives the boys the chance to spend it with their families and relax.”
It will be a new look Motherwell for Thistle on Saturday as new Well gaffer, Ian Baraclough takes charge of just his second game.
“I hadn’t heard of him before he got the Fir Park job to be honest but he seems to be very positive and has his team playing and passing the ball very well. I think it should make for a good game. They got a massive win last week and I’ve no doubt they’ll be looking to close the gap on us. We just need to make sure we don’t make it too easy for them.
“Any team that has a new manager can take a bit of a boost, we just need to make sure we don’t give anything simple away and just focus on our own performance.”
“It’s a big opportunity for us too though. Something has to give in the other games which offers us the chance to maybe jump a place in the table which would be a perfect late Christmas present.”
As the year draws to an end the, Archie is pleased with his side’s progression but is equally frustrated with some of the season’s results.
“First and foremost I think we are a better side than we were this time last year. As a manager you’re always looking for your team to progress and build on what they had before. I think we’ve all seen that which is very pleasing. Having said that, there is a bit of frustration too as we know we can still be a tougher team to beat.”
Motherwell had a very poor start to the season which very much surprised the Thistle boss.
“I didn’t see it coming at all to be fair. Whenever we’ve played Motherwell it has always been a really tough game. McCall got them into a position where they just kept churning out great results and had a real consistency to their game.
“We beat them earlier in the season but it was a game that could so easily have gone the other way. It’ll be a different match come Saturday and we just need to focus on getting the right result.”
Having suffered the disappointment of an injury time equaliser last time out at Firhill Thistle manager, Alan Archibald, resisted the temptation to make any changes to the starting eleven. Stuart Bannigan continued to deputise at left back while James Craigen kept his midfield berth as the Jags looked to continue their unbeaten run and push for a top six place. The opponents on the day, Motherwell, were looking to build upon their victory and close the gap on the Jags under new manager Ian Barraclough.
The home side kicked the game off, shooting into the stand filled with 1,200 noisy Thistle fans, and it was the Jags who created the first opening after just a couple of minutes. Balatoni found O’Donnell deep in the Thistle half with the right back crossing for Higginbotham whose effort was deflected for a corner. It was Bannigan who took control of the resulting set piece and perhaps Seaborne should have done better than to direct his header over the bar from all of five yards out.
There were plenty of positive signs for Thistle in the opening stages as the team from Maryhill found acres of space down the right hand side. Both Elliott and O’Donnell making the most of the areas afforded to them by the home side.
Another Bannigan corner was whipped in and Twardzik did well to fingertip the ball away as Seaborne was poised to head home.
Despite good early work, in the thirteenth minute – and with pretty much the home side’s first real attack – Ainsworth collected the ball wide on his right and used his lightning pace to good effect, Bannigan was unable to stay on the right side of him and hauled him back as they tangled around the box. Although the foul was beyond doubt there was certainly some suggestion that the first contact was made outside the box. The referee was not for listening to protests though and pointed to the spot. Sutton stepped up and sent Gallacher the wrong way to put the home side 1-0 ahead.
The goal gave the home side a lift and they looked to pressure the Jags defence with both Osman and Balatoni making mistakes in dangerous areas that could have led to a further deficit.
A curling effort from Ojamaa and a powerful Reid shot were both excellently saved by Gallacher before Balatoni did well to clear two yards out from Sutton’s toes after Ainsworth had again got the better of Thistle’s makeshift left back.
At the other end James Craigen saw a spectacular dipping volley from 25 yards go just over. Thistle would also have the final effort of the half as O’Donnell was unlucky with a shot from 16 yards which was well saved by Twardzik low down at his near side post. It wasn’t enough though and the home side went in at the break a goal to the good.
Into the second half and, with the manager having moved Elliott to left back midway through the first half allowing Bannigan to occupy his usual midfield role, Thistle looked to press forward to get an equaliser.
It was Bannigan who had the first effort for the Jags after early substitute, Lawless, fed him seconds after coming on but his effort was blocked. A sweeping Thistle move saw Elliott break up play at the edge of his own box, pass to O’Donnell whose cross field ball found Bannigan. The central midfielder did well to slip the ball inside to his counterpart, Gary Fraser, but, rather than conjuring memories of “that night at Tynecastle” his shot went wide of the ‘Well goal.
Lawless, who had looked dangerous since coming on, then volleyed over from the edge of the box after Stevenson’s header across goal was only partially cleared by Ramsden. O’Donnell also saw his shot blocked after a strong driving run forward.
As the second half wore on Thistle had their own loud claims for a penalty waved away after Stevenson had his shirt pulled as he tried to get a shot away from inside the 18 yard box. The only result was a booking for Stevenson for over enthusiastically contesting the decision.
Higginbotham was next to have a chance but blazed wildly over before Lawless had his effort partially blocked at the near post allowing Twardzik to save easily.
With Thistle getting increasingly desperate as the minutes ticked away a wonderful Doolan chipped pass found the onrushing Lawless but he could not quite guide his effort on target and Doolan could do no better with an effort from four yards out on an afternoon that increasingly looked as if it would not go Thistle’s way.
The home side did have a chance to finish the game off when Erwin went one on one with Gallacher on the break but he put his effort past the near post.
The final chance of the game would fall to Osman who saw his header saved comfortably by Twardzik as he looked to find Doolan inside the box. The referee brought proceedings to a close shortly after on an ultimately disappointing result for Thistle.
Thistle: Gallacher, O’Donnell, Seaborne, Balatoni, Bannigan, Elliott, Osman, Fraser (Eccleston, 82), Craigen (Lawless, 53), Higginbotham, Stevenson (Doolan, 69)
Subs: Fox, Lawless (53), Doolan (69), Eccleston (82), Wilson, Lindsay, McDaid
It was a disappointed Alan Archibald who spoke to ptfc.co.uk, shortly after full time, following defeat at Motherwell.
“I thought our second half performance merited at least a point. We got to the final third a number of times and perhaps we chose the wrong options on a number of occasions. It’s down to us to cut teams open and work the goalkeeper more when we’re on top.”
The only goal of the game came from a penalty kick after Stuart Bannigan fouled Ainsworth.
“It’s a foul but I’m not sure if it was inside the box. The players felt the initial tug was outside the box.”
It was a disappointing first half performance for Thistle, something Alan agreed with.
“We hadn’t played at all in the first half. We started the better side in the first ten minutes and Dan Seaborne had a chance from a corner. Motherwell then had a good period of play, playing at a higher tempo than us which we expected – they have a new manager to impress.
“We said to the players that we were still in the game and made a positive attacking change early in the second half, bringing Stevie Lawless on. We had enough creative players on the pitch to hurt them and we should have done more. That being said Motherwell defended well with a lot of last ditch blocks.”
Ryan Stevenson felt he should have had a penalty of his own midway through the second half.
“We had a couple of penalty shouts in the second half. Stevenson, Doolan and Lawless all had claims. Some refs give them, some don’t. Hopefully it will balance out throughout the season.”