SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Sat 23 August, 2014. Kick Off: - 15:00
Firhill Stadium, Glasgow.
Thistle manager, Alan Archibald, is in confident mood ahead of Saturday’s game against Hamilton but knows that it won’t be an easy game. He told ptfc.co.uk that he was determined not to let his players underestimate the threat the Premiership new boys bring.
“A lot of people are saying Hamilton will let us play but I certainly don’t see it like that. I don’t think they go out to let anybody play. It should be a good game though because they can get the ball down play some great stuff.
“When we played them in the first division they were one of the hardest teams to play against because they work ever so hard. I’ve seen a few of their games and they press in a very aggressive manner which is always hard to play against. They’ve also added quality since coming up so we certainly won’t be underestimating them because there is no doubt they can go and hurt teams.”
Hamilton manager Alex Neil finds himself in a similar position to that which Archie found himself in last season, a young new manager taking a team into the top flight for the first time. But Thistle’s boss had nothing but good things to say about the job his opposite number.
“It’s a fantastic job that Alex has done with Hamilton, to bring them up by beating a Premiership team like Hibs and then to play in the way they have done is certainly impressive. They have a similar set up to us, a lot of pace and a lot of younger players. It certainly seems like he encourages his team to go play where they can and they certainly aren’t afraid to get the ball down and play it when they can.
“The main difference I think is that a few of their players have a bit more game time than our boys. They have lads that have been around that team in the Championship for a good few years so they aren’t without experience.”
We then checked with the gaffer what his team news was for tomorrow.
“We’re still without Welsh who remains out long term, we lost McMillan at the weekend with a hamstring issue that could keep him out for a couple of weeks and obviously Scott Fox is suspended.”
It was to prove a disappointing afternoon in the sunshine at Firhill as Thistle conceded two late goals to Hamilton to lose their unbeaten record for the season. The Jags’ manager, Alan Archibald, made three changes to the starting eleven that faced Dundee – all enforced. Scott Fox’s suspension meant a start for Paul Gallacher while injuries to Jordan McMillan and Dan Seaborne saw Dale Keenan and Aaron Muirhead both start.
The first chance of the game fell to the visitors when Imrie flicked the ball through the heart of the home defence and Longridge burst through one on one with Gallacher on four minuted. The Thistle keeper did well thuhg and made a great save low to his left.
Gary Fraser, who has been in great form since returning for pre-season, was the first to test Dundee custodian, McGovern, with a low 30 yard free kick but the keeper was equal to it and saved comfortably.
There was another scare for the home side when Antoine-Curier got across his man, looking certain to open the scoring for the visitors, it was a surprise to everyone when hs shout hit the upright. As it happens it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as the linseman’s flag was up quickly to rule the Guadeloupean offside.
Both teams were keeping posession well enough but the final ball was proving somewhat elusive. Crawford saw a 25 yard effort go well wide before, in the 32nd minute a great Gallacher clearance found Stephen O’Donnell in behind the visitors defence. The right-back drove forward into the box and, with only the keeper to beat, looked set to open the scoring. However when he unselfishly tried to square the ball to Lawless the Hamilton defence read the pass and cleared the ball.
Stevenson then fizzed a great ball across the box, just too far in front of Lawless after good play between the pair. Dale Keenan, in the lineup from the start for the first time, then sent a perfect pass in behind the Accies defence to put Stevenson, again leading the line for the Jags, one on one with the keeper. Unfortunately the former Hearts man could only put his shot straight at the keeper and another good chance went begging.
The final chance of the half would again fall to thistle as Gary Fraser put a shot just inches wide after Higginbotham’s header initially sent him through and it remained goalless at half time.
In the 48th minute a lovely passing move involving Balatoni, Keenan and Higginbotham saw the latter square the ball for Lawless who saw his shot brilliantly saved low down at the post by McGovern. An O’Donnell cross was then dropped by the visitors’ keeper and Stevenson couldn’t quite get a touch to force it goalwards.
It was Higgy who got the next chance too as he curled a 25 yard free kick just wide of the post in the 57th minute as the Jags looked for an opening goal. There were a number of chances for both sides in the last half hour, Antoine-Curier hitting the side netting after a great cross from the left hand side before Balatoni saw his header from a Fraser corner saved by the keeper.
Thistle had defending to do too as the game became increasingly stretched. Balatoni then had to make a great tackle and timely interception to prevent Crawford getting a clean shot away on Gallacher with just 12 minutes to go. Accies then hit Thistle on the break after a Higginbotham free kick was headed clear and it took a magnificent save from Gallacher, who was going the wrong way but blocked with his legs to prevent the visitors taking the lead.
With just five minutes of normal time remaining Thistle opened the scoring. O’Donnell took the throw in and Higginbotham took it on his chest, let the ball bounce and fired a magnificent 22 yard half volley into the top corner to make it 1-0 to Thistle. Many of the home fans would have thought this wonder strike would be enough to earn Thistle all three points – Hamilton had other ideas and the Jags weren’t in front for long, two minutes to be precise.
Substitute Andreu picked the ball up in his own half and was allowed to run unchallenged to the edge of the Jags’ box, he exchanged passes and fired past Gallacher from 12 yards for the equaliser. Worse was to follow in injury time when a mistake in the Thistle defence allowed another substitute, Jason Scotland, to go clean through on goal. He made no mistake and fired low and hard into the far corner to give Accies a 2-1 victory.
A disappointing performance and result especially having scored so late in the game.
“Yeah, yeah we are very disappointed – that wasn’t the real Thistle out there today. Being fair to Hamilton they were the better side for a lot of the game I thought. They kept the pressure on and pushed us all game.
“I think we probably created enough chances to go and win the game but when we did score we didn’t defend well enough and that cost us. We scored a wonder goal with five minutes to go and that should be enough for us to win the game at home but you saw the same old mistakes and that’s why we ultimately lost the game.”
Thistle went 1-0 up with just five minutes left on the clock before Hamilton delivered a double body blow and took all three points. To say it was a disappointing end to the game is something of an understatement.
“Yep it certainly was very disappointing. We didn’t pass the ball at well today but to score a wonder goal like that with five minutes to go you think you’ve got the win.
“The way we started in pre-season and the first couple of games I think we’ve looked more streetwise than we did at times last season. However to lose two goals like that was criminal and the way we lost the goals as well was extremely disappointing. I thought we had enough chances to stop both goals – especially the first one, the boy has run too far with the ball and nobody has been able to take it off him.”
The old adage of a team being most vulnerable just after they scored was certainly true of Saturday.
“Yep, I didn’t really celebrate the goal because there were still five minutes to go and sometimes you just know what’s round the corner. It just wasn’t there on Saturday. As you say, when you’ve scored it’s your most vulnerable time. As I said again the boy has run 40 yards with the ball, he should have been stopped before then.
“We have the opportunity to pick ourselves up on Tuesday and we’ll certainly be doing our best to ensure Thistle are in the next round of the League Cup. We don’t have any time to feel sorry for ourselves and neither should we. We’re all just keen to put this behind us and move on by playing as we know that we can.”