Scottish League Cup
Tue 6 August, 2013. Kick Off: - 19:45
Firhill Stadium, Glasgow
The euphoria of the opening night fixture has started to subside but as is the norm at the early part of the season the games tend to come thick and fast and tonight the attention turns towards the Scottish Communities League Cup tie with Ayr United here at Firhill.
Every club will tell you that the League is the number one priority but a good Cup run can be worth its weight in gold and we start out on the road to Hampden with a match against a side managed by former Thistle striker Mark Roberts.
Alan Archibald admitted that he will give his team selection some serious thought before naming his side for the game but is determined to make sure that the club enter the draw for the next round, which is to be made on Wednesday.
“Priority number one is to ensure that we are in the draw and so we must look to win the game. We took a lot of positives from the game on Friday night but this game comes with a totally different expectation level where we will be expected to win. However I have been in the game long enough to know that no games are won on paper and it will only be a successful one if we play the game in the manner which I expect from the squad. Ayr are a side who will come here determined to put on a show and cause an upset and we will have to guard against that, however I have plenty of faith in my squad and if we do our jobs then we hopefully will come out on top.”
So the question is, what is the thinking about team selection for this one?
“We have one definite non-starter in Jordan McMillan who is suffering from an ankle injury and I do have concerns over a couple of others in the shape of Kris Doolan and Aaron Muirhead. However this will give others in the squad an opportunity to show what they can do, I have said it before but I will be relying on all members of the squad this campaign and right away I will be giving others a chance tonight. We have a lot of new players and some of them will definitely start tonight or feature from the bench, and the beauty of that is I don’t see this in any way us weakening the squad because as I stressed earlier this is a competition I want to do well in, we have not been successful in it recently. It’s time to change that.”
Thistle as expected duly took their place in the second round of the League Cup with victory over League One Ayr United but their passage into the next round didn’t come without the odd scare along the way.
Manager Alan Archibald made a number of changes to his side with Gabriel Piccolo, Mark Kerr and Isaac Osbourne all coming into the team to make their Thistle debuts. There were also starting places for John Baird, Christie Elliott and Ross Forbes; all of whom came off the bench during the opening league fixture against Dundee United.
Ayr began their season with a win and they were the first side to have a chance in this game; Scott Fox smothering a Craig Malcom effort in the 9th minute.
Thistle though opened the scoring just three minutes later. Christie Elliott was able to work the ball into the path of Stephen O’Donnell to his right. O’Donnell doesn’t tend to score too many goals but when he does they tend to be good ones and that was certainly the case with this one as he fairly fired the ball into the top corner.
That goal should have settled Thistle down and to be fair they did control the majority of the rest of the first half, but while they enjoyed long spells of possession, switching the ball well from flank to flank, they didn’t create too many clear cut openings.
Ayr in contrast, despite seeing much less of the ball, probably had the better chances in the opening 45 minutes. Craig Malcom struck the frame of the Thistle goal, Michael Donald shot wide of goal from 25 yards out and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair needed to make a timely intervention from close to his own goal line.
The goal aside, Thistle best first half chances were a John Baird shot, after Steven Lawless had left defender Lithgow for dead, that was saved by Hutton and a first time shot from Christie Elliott that went wide of goal.
The second half followed a very similar pattern to that of the first. Thistle continued to see the majority of the possession but without troubling the Ayr defence too much while the visitors looked dangerous when they did threaten.
Indeed Ayr had a great chance to equaliser almost on the 60 minute mark. Michael Moffat was able to burst through the heart of the Thistle defence but his final finish badly let him down.
At the other end Gabriel Piccolo nearly marked his Thistle debut with a goal when his header struck the bar with Hutton forced to tip the loose ball over the bar before the Mexican was able to provide a finish that would have provided Thistle with a two goal lead.
Thistle though were pressing all the time and the second goal when it did arrive with 8 minutes remaining wasn’t unexpected. A John Baird corner was only partially cleared and when Steven Lawless was able to return the ball into the danger area captain for the night Conrad Balatoni was on hand to head the ball home.
If Thistle though that that was their place in the Second Round safely secured they were in for a shock. The game was in the 90th minute when substitute Mark Shankland was able to head past Scott Fox.
Just a minute later the same player was just a whisker away from taking the tie into extra-time. He managed to beat Scott Fox but became the second Ayr player to be denied a goal by the frame of the Thistle goal when his shot bounced off the base of Fox’s right hand post.
After watching his side edge through to the next round of the league cup, Manager Alan Archibald was pleased with the final result.
Speaking after the game, he said: “The main thing was to get through tonight, we’ve had some slip ups in cup competitions in the past so it was important to get the win and into the draw for the next round”
The manager introduced a number of new signings to the team, giving players like Issac Osbourne, Mark Kerr and Gabriel Piccolo their competitive debut in red and yellow and the gaffer was pleased with how they performed.
“I thought the guys who came in acquitted themselves well, We changed the side a bit and that was no disrespect to Ayr, we had a few knocks and some others hadn’t had much game time so we wanted to give them time on the pitch.”
There was nervy moments towards the end when Ayr pulled one back before hitting the post, Alan was happy however with his team.
“We passed the ball about well but we lost a disappointing goal at the end. It was a nervy end but that happens when you try and play percentage football, credit to Ayr through they battled and I’ve been in the same position with a lower league team, you get the goal and your tails go up and that happened with Ayr tonight”
Focus now turns to the premiership match with Ross County on Saturday and the manager brought us up to speed with the injury situation.
“We had Kris Doolan and Aaron Muirhead out with knocks tonight but they’ll hopefully be fine for Saturday, although Jordon McMillan is still injured. We’ll have to check on some players from tonight but they should all hopefully be okay”