SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Sat 2 May, 2015. Kick Off: - 15:00
Given the way results have fallen for Thistle recently, Alan Archibald could be forgiven for relaxing as his team ease away from the playoff dog fight. In reality though, nothing could be further from the truth as the Jags boss remains focussed and determined to finish as high up the league as possible. He spoke to ptfc.co.uk as his team finished their final training session before the penultimate home game of the season.
“Given the form that we have been in recently, we can go into the game looking forward to the match. Our future is well and truly in our own hands and that is the position any team wants to be in. The lads will be completely focussed on getting us over the line as soon as possible and we still feel that seventh spot is a realistic goal for us between now and the end of the season.
“The pressure we were under a few weeks ago has eased a bit but we still need to make sure we get over the last hurdle to guarantee we are back in this league come next season. The sooner we achieve definite safety the better it is for everyone concerned.”
As the games tick by the importance of securing safety sooner rather than later is something all the staff at Firhill are well aware of.
“We left it until the second last game of the season last time and we don’t want to do that again. The sooner we are safe the sooner we can start talking to players about contract extensions and look at the areas we need to strengthen for next season.
“There are players available now and, if we can be certain of playing Premiership football next season, we can get a jump on the other teams whose futures are still uncertain. It really is massively important to know where we will be as soon as possible.”
Firhill is a good place to be at the moment as Thistle continue an excellent run of form which has seen them take 13 out of a possible 18 points in the last six games.
“It’s probably one of the best runs we’ve had since being back in the Premiership and the results have come against some very good sides as well. We’ve showed real desire and drive in recent weeks and we will certainly be looking to take that in to the game on Saturday.”
Consistency of selection has been important for Thistle as they have embarked on this run of results and it looks set to continue as the manager has no fresh injury concerns.
“The only two that are set to miss out at the moment are Sean Welsh and Dan Seaborne. Both are recovering well but we just need to take our tome with them. The important thing is it means we can keep the core of the team that played so well in Dingwall together and hopefully go add to this terrific run of results.”
After the previous weekend’s magnificent victory up at Dingwall it was no surprise that manager, Alan Archibald, named an unchanged team for the visit of St Mirren to Firhill. The Paisley Saints came looking to build on their 4-1 victory over Kilmarnock the previous week and still had lingering, albeit faint, hopes of avoiding the drop. Meanwhile, a win for Thistle would guarantee Premiership football for another season for the Firhill side.
Before the game started there was a minute’s applause for James “Chico” Reilly which was impeccably observed by both sets of supporters.
It was Thistle who were the first to create a real chance when Ryan Stevenson collected the ball in the middle of the park and sent a pass through to Lyle Taylor who cut inside and fired narrowly wide of Ridgers post. Taylor again caused more trouble for the Saints defence when getting in between the centre half pairing, but his touch was too heavy and Ridgers collected the ball.
A Kallum Higginbotham corner was taken off the head of Frederic Frans as he looked to grab his second consecutive Jags goal as the home side continued to press. Steven Lawless saw his shot deflected wide after some great build up play from Stephen O’Donnell and Higginbotham. Stevenson and Higginbotham then combined well down the right to create another chance for Lawless but his effort was tipped over by Ridgers.
It was all one way traffic and Conrad Balatoni headed a Higginbotham corner across goal only to see Frans’ overhead kick go just wide. Quick thinking by Higginbotham from a free kick saw O’Donnell scamper down the right and his driven shot across goal was saved well by the Saints keeper.
Saints did threaten when Naismith found space down the right and burst past Balatoni, both players had their hands on each other and went down in a heap in the box. The visitors were apoplectic with rage that no penalty was given although it appeared that Naismith’s arm was around Balatoni beforehand and the incident certainly began outside the box. Stevenson then fired a powerful effort wide of the target while Taylor could not get enough power to divert a cross past the visitors keeper to leave the scoreline at 0-0 as the whistle went for half time.
Into the second half and it was Saints’ Mallan with the first effort when he blasted a 35 yard volley not only over the goal but also over the roof of the North Stand. In the 49th minute the Saints nearly took the lead in bizarre circumstances. Balatoni, Frans and Fox all left the ball to each other and, with Thompson closing in, Fox’s clearance smashed off the Saints captain but thankfully ended up wide of the target.
Despite all of Thistle’s possession the game remained goalless until the 68th minute when O’Donnell and Higginbotham combined on the right and the latter’s brilliant cross saw Stevenson rise above the visitors defence and head powerfully past Ridgers into the top corner, 1-0 to the Jags and a deserved lead it was too.
Next to start an attack was Stephen O’Donnell who launched one of his missile-like long throws and Stevenson controlled the ball but, with his back to goal, could not direct his shot on target.
Frans then sidefooted a Higginbotham corner wide of the target while at the other end Dayton’s 25 yard shot posed no problems for Fox and it drifted well wide.
On 82 minutes Thistle made it 2-0. Higginbotham fired in a corner which Frans headed up in the air, the Saints defence failed to clear properly and Abdul Osman attacked the ball before heading it back into the danger area where substitute Kris Doolan was lurking in acres of space and hooked the ball past Ridgers for his 10th goal of the season.
The Saints nearly pulled one back when Osman was robbed trying to shepherd the ball out of play and the ball fell to Gow who fired over from five yards when it looked easier to score.
A delightful chipped pass from Balatoni picked out substitute Gary Fraser’s well timed run into the box but his shot was deflected wide by Ridgers. From the resultant corner the Saints yet again failed to clear the danger and, when the ball fell to Lawless 20 yards out, he drove home powerfully past the keeper to make it 3-0 and earn Thistle a deserved three points and ensure the Jags would be a Premiership outfit for another season.
Thistle: Fox, Booth, Balatoni, Frans, O’Donnell, Osman, Bannigan, Lawless, Stevenson, Higginbotham (Fraser), Taylor (Taylor)
Subs: Gallacher, Craigen, Doolan (77), Elliott, Richards-Everton, Fraser (85), Wilson
Alan Archibald and all of his players and backroom staff will certainly sleep well tonight, as Thistle secured a third season in the top flight with at least three games remaining for the first time since 1981. The Jags boss spoke to ptfc.co.uk after the game and was visibly delighted with the result and his team’s performance.
“First and foremost I’m absolutely delighted to have secured another season in the top flight of Scottish football. It’s a tremendous achievement and, to have done it with three games to go shows real improvement from last season.”
“We aren’t done yet though and the aim now is to win our remaining games and finish as high up the league as we possibly can. If we can do that then we have a magnificent platform to go and build on going into next term.”
On the game itself Thistle dominated most of the match and deserved their victory although there was a period where Archie was concerned his team might struggle to get the first goal.
“We were a bit worried that we weren’t going to be able to break them down and get that ball over the line. They were hard to play against and the first half didn’t really go for us. After half time we kept going, defended well and got the first goal which made all the difference.
“After Stevo got the first it freed us up a bit and I always thought we would go out and get a second. I was delighted for Dools as that puts him into double figures for the season.”
There was a strong penalty shout for St Mirren in the first half but Archibald always had faith that his team would triumph in the end.
“Yea, they’ve maybe been a bit unlucky with that but, to tell the truth, I always had faith that our boys would win and that they would get themselves back into it if need be. We’ve been on a great run and the team are playing as well as they have since I took over as manager. It’s a great place to be right now and we need to take that positivity into the rest of this season and the start of next.”
Having secured safety at Tynecastle last season Alan was happy to be able to give the home fans at Firhill the pleasure of seeing the Jags book their place in the top flight for another season.
“It’s always good to do it on home turf. Tynecastle last season was a great night but we wanted to reward our loyal home fans this season by winning and achieving safety here at Firhill. We can now start looking towards next season and plan for it knowing where we are going to be. We’ll start speaking to players about contracts almost immediately. It’s a great position to be in as we can really start planning now and are able to do it before a lot of other clubs – that can make the difference.