SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Sat 2 April, 2016. Kick Off: - 15:00
Firhill Stadium, Glasgow.
Preparations are well underway for a run of three games in seven days that will hopefully see Thistle challenging for a top six slot. First up is the visit of Kilmarnock, the side who currently occupy the relegation play off slot, and all at Firhill are firmly focussed on getting three vital points from the game. Ptfc.co.uk caught up with manager Alan Archibald as the side prepared for the visit of the Rugby Park club.
“Saturday is a vitally important game for us ahead of the run that we have. If we can get a victory from that game it will set us up strongly for the week ahead and ensure everything that will allow us to secure a place in the top six is firmly in our hands. If we don’t get all three points we’re relying on favours elsewhere to get to where we want to be.
“Kilmarnock are fighting for their lives and have a new manager who is trying to introduce his own style of play. They have added a couple of quality players during the last few days and they will be desperate to come to Firhill and close the gap on the sides above them. We have to be up for the fight from the first whistle and prove that we are hungry enough to come out on top.”
The international break came at a good time for Thistle and has allowed the side to have a breather ahead of the three matches ahead.
“Prior to the international break we had a run of 6 games in about 19 days and within that we had a core of six or seven players who played in every game. The break came at a good time as it meant we could give the players some time off, while training last week went at a more relaxed pace just to keep everyone ticking over ahead of coming in and getting back down to work on Monday.
“The players will always tell you they want to play games but there comes a point where a breather is needed to recharge the batteries and make sure the players can continue to give 100% in the games ahead. The players have done ever so well to get us to where we are now, we just need to go out and finish the job to secure our safety as quickly as possible.”
With the conclusion of another heavy campaign in sight, Alan admits that sights are beginning to turn to next season, but insists his side have a job to do first.
“We’re not mathematically safe from relegation yet, although we do have a good cushion. Saturday presents a massive incentive for the players to go 12 points clear of Kilmarnock and it will be a major boost to have that gap. If we can sneak into that top six slot then it is another way that we can persuade potential signings to join the club, as we’re selling the team as a top six one and that will be an attraction.
“We’re looking to tie up some of our out of contract players and I think we’re very close with a couple of them. Some of the players that are in our squad have played the best football of their career at Firhill and we hope that will prove a factor for them to stay.”
Finally the gaffer concluded with team news ahead of the game against Kilmarnock.
“Stuart Bannigan is our only long term absentee that is missing. Liam Lindsay is a doubt as he is still suffering the effects of the hamstring injury he picked up in the warm up against Hamilton Accies a couple of weeks ago. There are a couple who have niggles and knocks that are pretty common at this stage of the season, and we’re confident they will all make it for the game.
“We’ll also have Mustapha Dumbuya almost fully fit. He managed 30 minutes against Hamilton and I think everyone can see the boost he gave the side as we looked to get the win. While he wasn’t able to get forward as much as we know he can, he presented a solid defensive option and it’s good to get him back to training. He’s a little short with the minutes of football he has played, but he has three games in a week to pick them up.”
It had been 14 days since Thistle last took to the field with the international break denying Thistle the opportunity to build on the come from behind victory achieved at New Douglas Park. It was a return to Firhill as Kilmarnock came to town needing every point in their bid to avoid the relegation playoffs. Thistle were in desperate need for the points too as they looked to sneak into the top six.
Alan Archibald made just the one change to the side which faced Hamilton but it did lead to a significant positional change in the Thistle side. Gary Fraser dropped out for Frederic Frans who took up his customary position in the heart of the Thistle defence. This enabled Gary Miller to return to his usual slot at right back, which in turn allowed Sean Welsh a recall into the heart of Thistle’s midfield. Kilmarnock fielded former Jags Conrad Balatoni and Kallum Higginbotham as well as new signing Miles Addison in defence.
Amoo was in the mood for Thistle and he showed it early on by beating Hodson on the left hand side of the Kilmarnock defence. It was Kilmarnock, however, who had the better opportunity to open the scoring early on.
Julian Faubert whipped over a tremendous free kick to the back post where Addison’s header smashed off Cerny’s right hand post before bouncing away to safety. It was a terrific delivery from the former Real Madrid man and he produced another excellent one a few minutes later, which Thistle just about did enough to clear.
In a physical battle, Kallum Higginbotham also fancied his chances from set pieces but he could only drill his low effort against the base of the Thistle wall.
Thistle were posing a threat from corners, breaking quickly on the counter attack through the influential Amoo. There were half hearted shouts for a penalty when he found Miller inside the box but referee, Don Robertson, was unmoved and signalled for a goal kick.
Thistle were having success through Amoo, who had the beating of Lee Hodson for a large part of the game, but Pogba was unable to turn his excellent crosses beyond MacDonald in the Killie goal. Sean Welsh was the last Thistle player to try his luck in the first half when Lawless pushed the ball into his path, but his effort from the edge of the box flew wide of target.
The second half started in a similar fashion to the first with both sides flying into it looking for the decisive first goal. Kris Boyd thought he had bagged it for Kilmarnock when he pounced on a loose ball. Cerny appeared to have been fouled when claiming a cross, the ball dropped to McKenzie who hit the post before Boyd, in an offside position, rolled the ball into the back of the net.
Barely 60 seconds later and it was Thistle’s turn to be denied a goal. Ryan Edwards picked out Mathias Pogba who fired home across MacDonald but the flag had long been raised for offside before his finish.
Pogba was growing into the game and from his low cross Lawless was unable to turn the ball home. The ball was breaking to Edwards at the back post but he was denied by a last gasp Dicker challenge.
Thistle were winning lots of corners, but their delivery wasn’t troubling MacDonald in the Killie goal and it was Kilmarnock who had the game’s best chance as the clock ran down. Josh Magennis, on as a substitute, managed to get to the touchline to cut the ball back to the waiting Boyd. Around 8 yards from goal, the prolific striker was only able to lift his effort over the crossbar and into the North Stand.
Gary Fraser, introduced as a substitute, was trying to inject urgency into the Thistle performance but when he attempted an effort from 35 yards, it flew well wide of goal.
With the game entering the final stages, Kilmarnock threw bodies forward looking to snatch a winner that would give them three vital points in their quest for safety. Thistle were slightly careless in possession causing Osman, Miller and Seaborne to get booked. It will prove extra costly for Seaborne as he is now suspended for the first post-split fixture that Thistle face.
In the end Thistle were forced to settle for a point in a game where they didn’t test Jamie MacDonald in any significant way while they could have lost it with Kilmarnock proving a danger from set pieces. Thistle’s top six hopes faded slightly and any aspirations to finish in the top half of the league will surely require a win on Tuesday night against Dundee United.
Saturday’s match with Kilmarnock was a hard fought stalemate with neither side able to find the decisive goal that would have helped both get three points closer to achieving their goals. Ptfc.co.uk caught up with Alan Archibald shortly after the full time whistle to gauge his reaction.
“I didn’t think we played well enough to get the three points today. We knew that today would be a battle with Kilmarnock fighting for their lives and so it proved. We didn’t win enough of our individual battles to merit getting the three points and, in truth, Kilmarnock created the better chances in the game.
“There wasn’t a lot of quality in the game today. Kilmarnock are fighting for their lives and you can see by the way they set up that they were looking to stay in the game for as long as possible and grab a late goal to win and it almost worked for them. Our players didn’t do enough for us to say we deserved to win the game, so we have to settle for the point.”
With the game ending in a draw, the gap between Thistle and Kilmarnock remains 9 points and the manager was pleased not to concede any ground.
“The positive I can take from the game is that we didn’t lose the game. Kilmarnock hit the post early on and had the better of the chances so we showed good character to remain in the game. The gap between us remains 9 points and it’s a good cushion to have as we approach the split.”
David Amoo had a significant first half impact on the game with his direct running and crosses causing Kilmarnock plenty of problems, but the goal eluded the side throughout the 90 minutes.
“It was a game of two halves for David. In the first half we got him on the ball on plenty of occasions and he was able to fire crosses into the box. After the break we weren’t able to get him on the ball as much and it contributed to the lack of clear opportunities in the second half.
“The side did well but the guile and final ball required in the attacking third of the pitch wasn’t there for us today and we drew a blank in front of goal.”
With two games to go Alan believes Thistle have to win both of their remaining games to have any hope of a top six place.
“It’s frustrating because a win would have kept us right up there with Dundee and Ross County. We’re now slightly playing catch up and relying on other results to get into the top six.
“We have to prepare for the game against Dundee United and make sure we are ready for another tough battle. After their victory today they’ll be coming looking for three points as they try to apply pressure on Kilmarnock, we need to make sure weare up for the fight to get three points.”