Saturday 20th April, 2013 at 9:46pm
The league season started with a victory over Falkirk and it was perhaps apt then that the title was clinched with victory against the same opposition nine months later.
There had been disappointment when Thistle were unable to secure the title at Firhill on the Tuesday night but in truth the point gained in that 0-0 draw took Thistle to very cusp of the title. Victory in fine style at the Falkirk Stadium took them over the finishing line to a title that many observers, but nobody inside Firhill, thought beyond this young squad of players.
Despite the punishing schedule of matches that the players have faced manager Alan Archibald again kept changes to a minimum for this game. An injury picked up in training on Friday meant that Sean Welsh sadly missed out but that allowed Steven Lawless, impressive coming off the bench against Raith Rovers, to come back into the starting eleven.
A pitch almost bereft of grass and a swirling wind meant that the game itself was unlikely to be any great spectacle but the Thistle fans were here to party and they weren’t to be disappointed.
They had an anxious moment, however, in the 4th minute when the division’s leading scorer Lyle Taylor tested Scott Fox at his left hand post. That though would be the last save of any real note that the Thistle keeper would be forced to make as he collected his 15th clean sheet of the season.
Given the importance of the occasion there was understandably a fair amount of tension in the air but the longer the game progressed the tighter a grip on proceedings did Thistle start to take. Their first real chance of note arrived in the 19th minute when Kris Doolan shot wide after Chris Erskine and Steven Lawless had combined to set him up.
Three minutes later a Steven Lawless header came back off the bar but the ball had gone out of play before Chris Erskine managed to cross the ball for Lawless.
Still things were getting more and more encouraging for Thistle and they had another excellent opportunity to open the scoring in the 26th minute. Kris Doolan did well to bring the ball down on the halfway line before pushing the ball into the path of Steven Lawless. Lawless in turn picked out Ross Forbes wide on the left giving him a clear run at goal. Unfortunately on the bumpy pitch Forbes wasn’t able to keep his shot down and McGovern wasn’t required to make a save.
McGovern was beaten however by a Ross Forbes free kick in the 35th minute. Kieran Duffie’s hefty challenge on Aaron Sinclair, a challenge that earned him a yellow card, saw Thistle awarded a free kick on the very edge of the Falkirk box. Forbes free kick looked destined for the back of the net only to strike the junction of bar and post and bounce clear.
Although Stephen O’Donnell would drag a left footed shot wide of target that would be the closest we would get to a goal in the first half.
Only four minutes of the second half had been played, however, when Thistle did open the scoring and in doing so edged that wee bit closer to the title. Ross Forbes’ corner from the left was met by the head of Andy Dowie and his bullet header flew into the back of the net.
The home side initially responded well to the loss of that goal. A Jay Fulton free kick from wide on the left struck the face of Thistle crossbar and Darren Dods sent a header from a corner over the bar
When no equaliser was forthcoming Thistle, playing with the confidence of champions, were able to press home their advantage and seal the win and the title in fine style.
A Stephen O’Donnell shot thumped off the chest of McGovern after O’Donnell had been set up by Chris Erskine and seconds later Steven Lawless came close with a header.
Christie Elliott, on as a sub for Ross Forbes, was immediately involved in the thick of the action and his shot from 20 yards out wasn’t too far wide of McGovern’s right hand post.
A second Thistle goal was looking increasingly likely and it arrived in the 78th minute. A moment of typical Chris Erskine magic left him one on one with McGovern and Erskine was able to finish with style and confidence.
All that remained for Thistle to do now was to play out the time that was left but they continued to look for more goals and were unfortunate not to add to their tally. A Christie Elliott cross was superbly dummied by Chris Erskine and Kris Doolan’s shot flew into the arms of McGovern.
Mark McGuigan could have been no more than an inch away from connecting with a Steven Lawless cross and Lawless himself just couldn’t squeeze the ball home after McGovern had parried an Aaron Sinclair shot.
Minutes later the full-time whistle sounded sparking incredible scenes of celebration on and off the park. It seems likely that the party will continue for some time yet.