SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Fri 25 April, 2014. Kick Off: - 19:45
Firhill Stadium, Glasgow.
There is little doubt that tonight’s game with St Mirren is a vitally important one. Including tonight’s game there are four matches to play before the end of the Premiership league campaign and to say that things are tight in the bottom half of the table would be a massive understatement.
Hearts, arguably the form team of the bottom six, have already been relegated but just three points separate the other five and there will be an almighty scramble between now and the end of the season among those five to avoid the dreaded play-off spot.
We did our chances of avoiding that position with an excellent, come from behind, victory at Kilmarnock last weekend and could do our chances of finishing above 11th no harm at all tonight with victory over a St Mirren side that are unbeaten in their last three games.
Floodlight matches at Firhill can be very special indeed; we need think no further back than to last season’s pivotal promotion game with Morton for evidence of that. A big crowd is expected at Firhill this evening and anticipation is growing as kick-off grows ever nearer.
Excitement is growing too for manager Alan Archibald who admitted to [link:HOME] that this was the kind of match that he wished he was playing in;
“It’s a long wait as manager sitting around waiting for the game. It’s the kind of game that I wish that I was playing in. It’s the kind of occasion that all players relish being part of. It’s arguably our biggest game since the Morton game last April and we are hoping for a similar result as that game.”
The manager is hoping that the fact that many of the current squad played in that match against Morton will prove to be advantage tonight.
“The experience of that should be an asset. The players know what needs to be done and will have learned from that experience and will need to take what they learned into tonight’s game.”
“It was an excellent result that we got last weekend away to Kilmarnock but I don’t think that reduces the pressure for tonight’s game any. There is always pressure when you get to this stage of the season where it really is dog eat dog. Playing on the Friday night gives you a little extra incentive. It gives you the chance to post your result ahead of those playing over the weekend and if you win it allows you to relax a bit and watch the other scores coming in. That applies to St Mirren as much as it does us though. Last week Kilmarnock would have been looking at the game as a chance to move six points clear off us and just about make themselves safe. St Mirren will look at tonight’s game as a chance to put some breathing space between them and others but we look at it as a chance to go above St Mirren. There really is everything to play for tonight.”
And the fans have their part to play too. Said the Thistle manager;
“The fans have been great all season but even I was taken aback by the numbers and the level of support we got at Kilmarnock. I’m sure the support will be even better tonight. There is something extra special about playing an evening game under the floodlights. There has been a cracking atmosphere at other night games, where we’ve had good results, and I can’t imagine it will be any different tonight. The fans really helped us at Kilmarnock last Saturday and they can help us tonight.”
Injury wise there is little change from last week.
“Only the long term injured players, Sean Welsh, Isaac Osbourne, Stephen O’Donnell and Aaron Muirhead, will miss tonight’s game. Everyone else is fit and raring to go.”
Partick Thistle Stats
Current Form – Last Five Games
W D L F A
1 1 3 6 12
Scorers Season 2013-2014
Kris Doolan 9
Kallum Higginbotham 7
Steven Lawless 5
Lyle Taylor 5
Aaron Muirhead 4
Conrad Balatoni 2
Christie Elliott 3
Chris Erskine 2
Aaron Taylor-Sinclair 2
Ross Forbes 1
Gary Fraser 1
Lee Mair 1
Jordan McMillan 1
Stephen O’Donnell 1
Saturday April 19th 2014
Kilmarnock 1, Partick Thistle 2
St Mirren Stats
Current Form – Last Five Games
W D L F A
2 1 2 7 8
Scorers Season 2013-2014
Stephen Thompson 13
Kenny McLean 6
Paul McGowan 5
John McGinn 3
Adam Campbell 2
Jason Naismith 2
Connor Newton 2
Gary Harkins 1
Sean Kelly 1
Gregg Wylde 1
Own Goal 1
Saturday April 19th 2014
St Mirren 2, Hibs 0
Saturday January 25th 2014
St Mirren 0, Partick Thistle 0
St Mirren: Kello, Naismith, McAusland, Wylde, Kelly, Campbell (Newton ), McGregor, McGinn, Thompson, McGowan, Goodwin.
Thistle: Gallacher, Taylor-Sinclair, Muirhead, Balatoni, Craigen, Bannigan, Mair, McMillan, Taylor (Doolan), Higginbotham (Lawless), Erskine (Elliott).
Friday April 25th 2014
Partick Thistle v St Mirren
Referee: Calum Murray
Assistant Referees: Tom Murphy and Joseph Lawson
Fourth Official: Willie Collum
Aberdeen v St Johnstone (Saturday)
Celtic v Inverness Caledonian Thistle (Sunday)
Dundee United v Motherwell (Saturday)
Hibernian v Hearts (Sunday)
Ross County v Kilmarnock (Saturday)
Honours were even at the end of the first post split Firhill fixture as a late first half penalty from St Mirren cancelled out Kris Doolan’s headed opener for Thistle.
After winning 2-1 at Rugby Park six days earlier there was little surprise that Alan Archibald selected the same team for this fixture. It was the visitors though that started the game the better and they were close to taking the lead after barely 60 seconds of action. They enjoyed the break of the ball at the edge of the Thistle box and through good fortune more than anything John McGinn was presented with an opportunity to give his side an early lead. His shot though lacked conviction and Paul Gallacher was able to make a fairly routine save.
It did, however, set the tone for the very early portion of the game in which St Mirren looked determined to establish an early advantage. Thistle though weathered the storm of the opening five minutes and were in control for large chunks of the first half that followed.
The first real opportunity to come Thistle’s way arrived in the 9th minute when after a spell of pressure a Chris Erskine shot was deflected wide for a corner kick.
Kallum Higginbotham has been in sparkling form of late and he was causing the St Mirren rear guard all kinds of problems and in the 14th minute he was hauled down at the left hand corner of the St Mirren box. Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, scorer of the winner against Kilmarnock, went for goal from the free kick but his effort flew straight at Dilo in the St Mirren goal.
Thistle continued to press and Higginbotham was central to Thistle’s next opportunity. A piece of magic from him allowed him to find the space to cross into the box and although James Craigen’s late run into the box was in time to meet the cross he wasn’t able to direct his header towards the St Mirren goal.
The opening goal though arrived just two minutes later in the 26th minute. A sublime cross with the outside of his right foot from Kallum Higginbotham picked out Kris Doolan at the back post and he headed back across goal and into the bottom corner of the net for his 10th goal of the season.
Doolan was close to adding to his tally for goals for the season four minutes when his outstretched leg was just unable to make contact with a long range effort from Taylor-Sinclair and divert the ball towards goal.
Just as they had started the half strongly so St Mirren finished it strongly as well. A sliced clearance from Lee Mair only just cleared his own crossbar and a ball bounced free right in front of the Thistle box begging for a finish before it was hacked clear. Jordan McMillan also made an important headed clearance as it looked as if Thistle would go into the dressing room at half-time a goal ahead.
There was, however, still time for more first half action. With the clock touching the 45 minute mark Kallum Higginbotham’s challenge on Jason Naismith resulted in a penalty that Kenny McLean tucked away expertly despite Paul Gallacher going the right way.
St Mirren began the second half on top but they weren’t able to truly extend Gallacher in the Thistle goal. The closest they came was a free kick that went wide of goal and a snatched effort from Newton that crept past the post with Gallacher untroubled.
The longer the half went on the more Thistle again started to take a grip on the game. Lee Mair stooped to connect with a curling Higginbotham free kick in the 67th minute but his header went over the bar.
Three minutes Thistle were again close to a goal. Kris Doolan’s flick sent James Craigen clear on goal. His shot was blocked but only as far as the path of Kallum Higginbotham who, despite a poor first touch, delivered a cross that Christie Elliott couldn’t quite flick into the back of the net from 6 yards out.
It was hardly one way traffic though and in the 74th minute Thistle were caught on the break and very nearly punished to the full. Magennis was able to break clear and he set up McLean to his left whose shot rebounded off the base of Gallacher’s left hand post. Gallacher, however, was required to get a touch to long range effort from Sean Kelly just three minutes after St Mirren had struck the frame of the Thistle goal.
Thistle too would strike the frame of the goal before the end of the 90 minutes. Lyle Taylor replaced Kris Doolan who had worked tirelessly up front for 72 minutes and Taylor merely picked up from where Doolan had left off. He managed to get the merest of touches to a ball in from the left in the 79th minute but not sufficient to guide the ball away from Dilo and with 8 minutes remaining his header from a Gary Fraser cross struck the St Mirren crossbar.
It was Thistle that looked the more likely to find a winner as the game drew near to a conclusion and with the match in injury time Conrad Balatoni nearly found a late winner but his header from a Higginbotham corner flew wide of target.
After a pulsating 90 minutes where both Thistle and St Mirren went at each other hammer and tongs [link:HOME] caught up with Thistle manager Alan Archibald who had been hoping that the game might not have been quite so frantic.
“I was hoping that it wasn’t going to get like that. It went like that at Rugby Park as well and it was end to end stuff tonight and it was a very entertaining game. We knew that St Mirren would start the game well, and they did but after the first 5 minutes I thought that we dominated the first half.”
“They had a wee spell around about the 41 minute mark, when I took a look at my watch, when we couldn’t get out our own half and we couldn’t get the ball back. Our decision making was poor. It was on just to turn it and get it out of our own half and that I think led to the penalty. That was a sore one to take at a hard time to take and the boys were down at half-time. I thought that they had played well enough to have been leading at half-time.”
What were Alan’s thoughts on the penalty?
“I thought it was a very soft decision especially on an occasion like this with so much at stake but the referee gave it. Hopefully we’ll get one like that at the other end in another match. You just have to take the good with the bad with referees.”
Did conceding a goal so close to half-time mean that the manager had to change what he was going to say to the players at the interval?
“I think it did and we had to lift the players because it was a sore one to take after having played so well. Also Prince got injured and we had to take him off. We changed a couple of things and I think that St Mirren were the better team in the first 15-20 minutes of the second half.”
Alan went on;
“I felt though that we finished the game the stronger. I was pleased that the lads kept their shape as St Mirren had that spell at the start of the second half. For about 15 minutes they were good but we kept our shape and still looked a threat. We always looked a threat. It’s important that we are creative and carry a threat.”
Both strikers Kris Doolan and then Lyle Taylor when he came on caused the St Mirren defence a whole host of problems throughout the game. Said Alan;
“It was the same last week for them. It’s very hard for them with the style that we play with one guy up top and the other guy coming off the line. It’s hard for the player up front and he has to put in a real shift and we have two very good strikers at the moment. Kris Doolan scored with a fantastic header from a great cross and Lyle Taylor caused them umpteen problems when he came on and was unlucky when he hit the bar.”
With our game for the weekend now completed what is Alan hoping for from the two other bottom six fixtures this weekend?
“What will happen will happen. I don’t think anyone can predict what is going to happen in these games. It was important that we got something from tonight’s game because we know someone is going to pick up something from the other games. It was vital that we got something as well. If we get the same attitude, performance and desire as we did tonight in the games remaining then we will be okay. The players tonight continued to show a desire to try and go and win the game and they did that in a manner that saw them keep their shape. Earlier in the season we didn’t always maintain our shape and that allowed teams to cut us open so it was good to see us keep our shape against a good St Mirren side who are on a good run of form at the moment”