SPFL Ladbrokes Premiership
Sat 25 April, 2015. Kick Off: - 15:00
Global Energy Stadium, Dingwall
After the international break gave his team a chance to recover from a hectic week of fixtures, Alan Archibald is looking forward to taking his side to Dingwall to take on high flying Ross County. The Firhill gaffer spoke to ptfc.co.uk before jumping on the team bus to give all the latest pre-match news.
“It’s never great for a fixture break to come when you’re winning but it has given us a chance to work on our injured players. Apart from Seaborne and Welsh we should have pretty much a full squad to choose from. James Craigen returns from the suspension he picked up against Celtic and Christie Elliott is back in contention having recovered from a groin problem he was struggling with.”
Ross County are the form team in the country at the moment but Archibald his team have what it takes to bring that sequence to an end.
“They are on a fantastic run, without any shadow of a doubt and they’ve done really well to pull themselves away from the position they were in at the turn of the year. It’s down to us to go out there and try to stop them and that is what we will be aiming to do. The last time we went up there it was a 1-0 and a very very close match but we’ll be looking to take all three points on Saturday – there’s no doubt about that.”
Alan is clear that, as things stand, there is still work to do to achieve safety and knows his team will have to stay focussed to make sure they don’t get dragged back into the scrap.
“We can’t take our eyes off the ball and need to make sure we get ourselves over the line as soon as possible. All that starts tomorrow. If we can get a result on Saturday that will allow us to fully concentrate on catching those above us and finishing as high up the league as we possibly can.
“A lot of people saw us as underdogs against Motherwell last week and I think that’s the same again, even if we are above them in the league. We enjoy that though and will be out to prove a few people wrong.”
Having secured three points over Motherwell to continue an excellent run of form, the Jags made the long trek to Dingwall to face a Ross County side that was one of the form teams in Europe. Having had a two week break due to the Scottish Cup semi-finals, there was huge anticipation surrounding the game, with both clubs knowing that a victory would all but secure another season of Premiership football.
Thistle gaffer, Alan Archibald, named the same starting eleven that had gained the win over ‘Well, with James Craigen returning from suspension and taking a place on the bench alongside the fit again Christie Elliott.
County created an early half chance when Boyce was allowed space in the Jags box but his header went tamely wide. As the early exchanges played out Thistle seemed to be in the mood, zipping the ball about the pitch confidently. An O’Donnell cross from a Lawless pass found Stevenson whose shot went just wide. Lyle Taylor then nodded down for Stevenson whose shot was well saved by Brown.
Ryan Stevenson was looking particularly dangerous and again had a chance that he fired over from 16 yards as Thistle continued to dominate. An excellent hooked pass by Lawless sent Taylor in behind the County defence but his low drilled cross from the byline found no takers in the box.
Given the amount of Thistle pressure it was something of a surprise when, in the 21st minute, Jamie Reckford’s cross was not dealt with by the Jags defence and Gardyne fired home at the far post to give County the lead against the run of play.
Thistle though continued to play their passing game and, sixty seconds later, Taylor had the ball in the County net only to be flagged for offside. However, in the 26th minute, Thistle were deservedly level.
A 22 pass move saw the ball moved to Frans just inside the County half, he drove forward and then unleashed a screamer from at least 30 yards which arrowed, past the despairing Mark Brown, and into the bottom corner of the County goal – a wonderful strike from the big Belgian.
The Jags continued to push forward and Stevenson saw a left foot shot saved by Brown before Stuart Bannigan curled a shot agonisingly past the post. As the visitors continued to turn the screw the home side’s keeper was almost made to look very silly. The Staggies custodian was hesitant on the ball and Stevenson blocked his attempted clearance but could not force the rebound on target from 25 yards.
Thistle were looking as dangerous as they have done all season when Higginbotham linked up with Taylor who spotted Booth’s run into the box. The on form left back couldn’t keep his shot on target though as his effort went just wide as both teams left the field with the scores level at 1-1
It was same again at the start of the second half with Thistle continuing to dominate proceedings. Great play by Lawless, who was unplayable at times, saw him slide Taylor in but, with just Brown to beat, his shot could only find the side netting.
Stevenson then nodded the ball down to Taylor who slid in Lawless, he was held back by Quinn but the ref waved away penalty claims, perhaps due to the honesty of the Jags player who didn’t throw himself to the ground but stayed on his feet.
Despite the chances Thistle couldn’t take the lead but, as the half ticked on, the seemingly inevitable did eventually happen and the Jags deservedly went in front in 54 minutes. County failed to clear their lines and the ball fell to O’Donnell out wide, his fierce half volley beat Brown at his near post to put Thistle 2-1 ahead, another tremendous strike from the Jags right back.
It was nearly three with 20 minutes to go, Bannigan collected the ball at the edge of his own box, drove forward and found Lawless who slipped the ball into the path of O’Donnell who forced a brilliant save from the home keeper. Taylor then won the ball off Quinn 40 yards from goal, Stevenson collected it and found Higginbotham who squared back across for Taylor but the striker took a touch inside and the chance was lost.
The home side were not creating anything of note, they had loud claims for a penalty when Gardyne went down under a challenge from Bannigan but the referee rightly waved away his claims. An O’Donnell challenge which was magnificent in its timing snuffed out the only other danger as Thistle ran out 2-1 winners in front of the noisy 358 travelling fans.
Thistle: Fox, Booth, Frans, Balatoni, O’Donnell, Osman, Bannigan, Lawless, Higginbotham, Stevenson, Taylor
Subs: Gallacher, Craigen, Doolan, Elliott, Fraser, Wilson, Keenan
Having watched his team record a convincing 2-1 victory over a Ross County side that had put together one of the best run of results in European football, Alan Archibald was understandably satisfied with the performance of his side.
“I thought we were very strong from front to back today and we dominated the game for good periods. We started the game really well and were on the front foot from the first whistle. We were disappointed to lose the goal and i think that knocked our confidence a bit and distracted us from our game plan. When the equaliser came you saw us go back to doing what we had done well in the opening periods of the half.”
Both of Thistle’s goals in Dingwall came from defenders, the first a wonder strike from Frederic Frans and the second, itself an excellent effort, coming from Stephen O’Donnell.
“It was fantastic to see the goals coming from defenders and it just shows their desire to get up the field and help the team out. The flip side of that is that it was a bit frustrating not to score more as I felt we created a number of opportunities for our front men and it could have, and maybe should have, been more comfortable.
“One of the things we talked about time and again last season was getting goals from other areas of the pitch and not always relying on our strikers. We’ve done well in that respect this season with goals coming from all over the pitch and players in many different positions. I think Stephen and Freddie both getting on the score sheet today shows that and shows how willing everyone in this squad is to work for each other.
“I’d love to say I’ve seen Freddie do that in training but I’d be lying! It was a fantastic strike and I think as soon as it left his boot we all thought it was in. He’s a popular guy in the dressing room and you could see that in his celebration. We were all delighted for him.”
Much of Ross County’s run has been built on hard work and enterprise and Archie said in his match preview that a big part of today’s result would be decided by Thistle’s ability to match that.
“We spoke about it before the game and said we had to match their work rate. To be fair to the boys they have all put in a great shift today and that is where the result has come from. Winning your first game after the split is always important and that gives us a tremendous platform to build on in the coming games.
“We set ourselves the target of remaining unbeaten after the split last season and managed it until the last game of the season, that will be the objective again and we got off to the perfect start today. That result doesn’t see us completely safe but it does ease the pressure and allows us to focus on catching those above us and finishing as high up the league as possible. There is no doubt that we are looking above us now.”