SPFL Development League
Tue 29 March, 2016. Kick Off: - 14:00
It was a short journey to Renfrew for Scott MacKenzie’s young Thistle side as they took on St Mirren in more Development League action. St. Mirren defeated the Young Jags 2-1 at Firhill earlier in the season and went into the fixture in third position in the Development League, so posed a tough task for Scott MacKenzie’s side.
MacKenzie was forced into changes as suspension denied him the services of both Jordan Leyden and Dominic Docherty, players who have been regulars in the heart of the midfield for him this season. He opted to re-jig the midfield by bringing Andrew McCarthy deeper to partner David Wilson in the heart of midfield. This allowed Mark Lamont and James Stokes to fill the wide positions in midfield as the side showed an attacking intent. Neil McLaughlin replaced Antonio German in an attacking midfield slot, and was encouraged throughout the game to support Kevin Nisbet. In the St Mirren side was familiar foe, Jim Goodwin.
Thistle started strongly and really should have taken the lead within two minutes. James Stokes pounced on a short goal kick, robbing the defender of the ball and advanced into the box. He chose to, unselfishly, pass the ball across the box to McLaughlin who seemed destined to score. He didn’t account for a diving goalline clearance from the recovering defender before Kevin Nisbet fired the rebound wide from 10 yards.
The game was end to end in the opening stages and Conor Cullen had to produce a tremendous save to deny McGrath with a shot from inside the box.
Nisbet was proving a considerable menace and after McCarthy robbed Goodwin, he set Nisbet away only for a Saints toe to nick the ball away from the striker and out for throw in deep in St. Mirren territory.
Thistle were having the better of the game, particularly in midfield where the young vibrant side passed rings around their opponents at times. A couple of poor decisions in the final third cost the teams opportunities but the waves of attack were all heading in the Saints goal.
It was from one of these attacks that Neil McLaughlin rattled the post in 21 minutes. Nisbet chased a long ball from defence, winning it well. McLaughlin had the ball rolled into his path and from 20 yards fired an effort which beat Willison, only for it to smash off the goalkeeper’s post and away to safety.
Thistle were knocking hard on the door and the opening goal was only a matter of minutes away. Again McLaughlin and Nisbet linked up well, but it was the former who teed up the prolific striker to fire home his 14th goal of the Development League season.
Thistle continued to attack and a deep McInally cross had Stokes scampering after the ball before being fouled wide of the penalty area. The resulting free kick, however, was poor and sailed high over everyone.
McInally was next to have a goal on the Saints goal and when the ball found him in a wide area in the penalty box, his left footed shot was inches wide of the post.
Some more exceptional midfield play set Wilson away on the right hand side of midfield. His first time pass to Nisbet was incredible, with the striker rounding the goalkeeper with his first touch. The angle, however, was too tight for the strike and his second touch saw his effort fly into the side netting. Willison was forced into a terrific full length save after Nisbet smashed an effort on goal from around 16 yards out. The second goal was still eluding Thistle’s attackers and it was to prove crucial right on half time.
Thistle switched off from a quick free kick allowing Lewis Morgan to fire an unstoppable effort from 30 yards into the top corner of the net. Saints, who had offered little in an attacking sense, were suddenly level.
It was a confidence the home side took into the second half and Cullen had to produce a good fingertip shot around the post early on. The Jags defence held firm and gradually came into the game.
High pressing from McCarthy won the ball from a Saints throw, allowing Nisbet to fizz an effort on goal. Willison was equal to it to tip it over for a corner. From the corner Edin Lynch’s header was kept out by a combination of goalkeeper and defender.
Thistle’s development side have scored a number of good goals this season and Neil McLaughlin added to the collection with a goal which was a joy to watch. Lamont flicked the ball forward to Nisbet who battled hard for it. He lost his balance, but retained the ball to back hell to the onrushing McLaughlin. Faced with only the goalkeeper to beat, McLaughlin showed tremendous confidence and skill to slide the ball past him and tapping it into the net from close range.
McGrath almost dragged Saints level just after the hour mark when from a knock down in the box he thundered an effort off the post. The game descended into a midfield slog with substitutions disrupting the flow of the game. As the game entered its final ten minutes St Mirren piled bodies forward in search of the equaliser.
Thistle had to defend several set pieces from the Saints with drastic deep defending as the ball just wouldn’t stick in the attack for Thistle. After four long minutes of injury time Thistle were able to claim another three points in the Development League and march up to 7th place in the table.