SPFL Development League
Mon 22 February, 2016. Kick Off: - 16:00
Murray Park, Milngavie.
Thistle travelled to Murray Park to take on Rangers in the Development League looking to get their first victory over the Govan side since the opening day of the 2014/15 campaign.
MacKenzie made three changes to the team which were sucker punched late on by Aberdeen last week in Airdrie. Marc Waters, unavailable due to the terms of his loan deal, was replaced by Conor Cullen in goals. Kevin Nisbet returned to his customary striker role while there was also a Development League return for David Wilson. They faced a Rangers side that was also filled with youthful players, although they had the international experience of Cammy Bell in goal.
Thistle started the game brightly with a high pressing game which forced Rangers to fire the ball more direct than they would perhaps have liked to early on in the game. McLeod was proving to be a handful on the left hand side for Rangers and his battle with Matthew McInally in the first half was to prove one of the more enjoyable ones to watch during the course of the first 45 minutes.
Rangers had a lot more possession than Thistle in the opening stages, but they were unable to do anything meaningful with it. Thistle, on the other hand, were looking threatening on the break and constantly got bodies forward in search for the opening goal of the game. A Rangers clearance cannoned off Nisbet with the ball bouncing straight into the arms of the grateful Bell. David Wilson and Dominic Docherty also forced full length saves from the Gers custodian as Thistle looked to get on the ascendancy. McLaughlin fired a bobbly shot wide of target after being played through by McInally before scoring the opening goal for Thistle in the 28th minute.
Lamont and McInally combined well down the right hand side to send the full back away into a wide area. He cleverly found Nisbet with his cut-back, the striker having an effort well saved by Cammy Bell. The rebound from the save bounced up nicely for McLaughlin to head the ball back towards goal into an unguarded net.
Rangers were stunned by the loss of the goal but weren’t able to seriously test Cullen in the Thistle goal, with speculative efforts being the sum of the efforts from Rangers attackers as the first half drew to a close.
Rangers came out strongly for the second half, looking to get straight back into the game with McLeod on a one man mission to get the home side level. With barely five minutes of the second half gone, however, Thistle raced into a two goal lead. Matthew McInally sent over a superb cross with Tom Lang was unable to deal with and his flicked clearance went into the back of his own net.
Thistle had led by two goals in the last game of last season before Rangers came roaring back and with 40 minutes left, the home side still presented a danger. Neil McLaughlin should, perhaps, have extinguished that danger a few minutes later when he had a number of opportunities to shoot inside the Gers box, but he couldn’t take them and the Rangers defence recovered.
Thistle were playing a disciplined game as Rangers huffed and puffed to get back into the contest. Goalkeeper, Cullen didn’t have an effort to save from inside the box as the defence played very well to reduce the home side to pot shots on goal, some of which presented more danger to the roof of Murray Park than Cullen’s goal.
There was a third goal in this game and it was the icing on Scott MacKenzie’s Young Jags cake. Dominic Docherty spun on the edge of the box, playing the ball through to Kevin Nisbet. His low finish deceived Bell and spun into the net to put Thistle 3-0 up.
Thistle played out the game in stylish fashion and after almost three minutes of injury time were able to celebrate three precious points, as well as only the second Development League clean sheet of the season.
Next up for Scott MacKenzie’s side is a fixture against Kilmarnock in two weeks time.