Saturday 13th December, 2014 at 10:11am
Thistle made the long trip up the A9 to face an Inverness Caledonian Thistle side that have had a great start to the season and remained unbeaten at home since April. Thistle manager, Alan Archibald, made two changes from the starting eleven that had drawn with Kilmarnock, Jordan McMillan replaced Jake Carroll and Gary Fraser came in to replace James Craigen in conditions which could only be described as raw.
Thistle started brightly pushing up and pressuring Caley on the ball and a great crossfield ball from Fraser found Stephen O’Donnell but his cross just evaded all of the Jags players in the box. In the sixth minute Gallacher had to look lively to stop McKay as Caley broke at pace from a Jags corner and showed one of the reasons why their season has started so strongly.
The home side should really have gone ahead three minutes later when Balatoni slipped allowing Watkins to go through one on one with Paul Gallacher. Luckily for the visitors the Caley man slid his shot wide of both keeper and the far post and the scores remained level.
Thistle made the home side pay for their spurned chances when, in the 11th minute, they produced a brilliant team goal. McMillan found Bannigan who in turn found Stevenson, he knocked a pass wide right to O’Donnell who sent Elliott clear down the right hand side. Finding himself in space the Thistle winger squared a great ball across the box and there was the onrushing Stevenson sliding in to poke the ball home at thefront post. Great work from the former Hearts man having continued his run from the halfway line to make it 1-0.
There was nearly a second for Thistle immediately when Bannigan collected a loose pass and found Higginbotham straight away, the squared pass to Stevenson was well placed but the scorer of the Jags’ first goal could only put his shot over the bar.
The Highlanders certainly weren’t giving up easily though and defence and keeper both had to look sharp when first Warren headed over before Gallacher did well to save a Tansey shot one handed down to his right.
Despite the ICT pressure it was Thistle who would strike again and, in the 40th minute, it was 2-0 to the visitors. Thistle won the ball in midfield and, when the ball found Fraser in space, he squared across the 18 yard box perfectly for Stevenson to sidefoot home powerfully and send the away fans wild.
Gallacher had to be on hand again though to keep out another stinging Tansey effort before Stevenson, absolutely full of confidence, saw his effort deflected for a corner. The resulting corner, taken by Bannigan, was met perfectly by Seaborne’s head but Brill pulled off an unbelievable fingertip save onto the post to keep it at 2-0 as the first half ended.
As the teams re-emerged for the second 45 it was Thistle who would start the stronger. Stevenson did brilliantly on the right hand side and made space for a peach of a left foot cross which was met by Fraser’s, who had made a perfectly timed run into the box, and the young midfielder powerfully headed home via the underside of the bar from six yards to make it 3-0.
The home side tried to bounce back and a Warren shot was brilliantly tipped round the post by Gallacher but the momentum remained with the visitors. There was a bit of controversy from the resulting corner though, as Thistle cleared to Raven 35 yards out who hit a screamer that had Gallacher beaten and seemingly Inverness on the score sheet. It wasn’t to be though as McKay, having deemed to have been interfering with play while in an offside position, was flagged and the goal was disallowed.
Stevenson then forced Brill into another great save from a shot on the turn and earned the Jags a corner as he strived for an ultimately illusive hat-trick.
There was more to come from Thistle though and the lead was extended when Bannigan, who was magnificent all afternoon, produced a perfect cross for Balatoni at the back post. Conrad created the yard for himself that was required and headed home to make it 4-0 for Thistle and spark wild scenes of celebration behind the goal for the Jags fans.
Caley did not offer much in reply an the final chance of the match fell to Thistle when an O’Donnell ball into the box found substitute Eccleston who turned and fired a great shot which Brill again brilliantly saved.
As the referee blew for full time it was the small number of Jags fans in the stand who were celebrating a comprehensive victory in the highlands. An all round terrific team performance and not a failure on the pitch.
Thistle team: Gallacher, O’Donnell, McMillan, Seaborne (C), Balatoni, Higginbotham, Osman, Bannigan, Fraser, Elliott, Stevenson.
Subs: Fox, Craigen, McDaid, Wilson (Bannigan), Lawless (Higginbotham), Lindsay, Eccleston (Stevenson)