Saturday 18th March, 2017 at 10:00pm
After a late Gary Warren goal denied Partick Thistle all three points last Saturday against Inverness, the Jags looked to get back on track in their search of a top six place against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Kilmarnock sat two points below Thistle and as such a win would have allowed the Ayrshire side to leapfrog the Jags in the league table. A win would have been a huge boost for Thistle as they try to make sixth spot theirs. Alan Archibald’s men came into the match undefeated in their last four games at Rugby Park.
There was only one change to the team who started against Inverness. Callum Booth, who had limited training during the week, took a place on the bench and was replaced by Christie Elliott. Steven Lawless and Abdul Osman, who both came off last Saturday due to injury, started the game.
There was a minute’s silence held prior to kick-off in memory of Joanne Johnston. A well-respected woman across Scottish football, her ties with Thistle stem from her father, the late Peter ‘Ma Ba’ McKennan, who spent 11 years with the Jags in the 1930s and 40s. She was also wife to Kilmarnock Company Secretary and former Chairman, Michael Johnston. The minute of silence was observed impeccably by both sets of supporters.
It was the away side who got the match underway but the hosts were the team in control, early on. Their strong start led to an early opening for Sean Longstaff, six minutes in. The midfielder picked up the ball on the Killie left before cutting inside onto his right foot. He then unleashed a shot, aimed for the top corner, but it flew a couple of yards over.
The Ayrshire side continued their relentless pressure as the minutes progressed and were almost rewarded in the 17th minute. The home side used a training ground corner routine to create space for Scott Boyd who was found by Jordan Jones but the ex-Ross County defender’s header was saved well by Tomas Cerny at the back post.
Kilmarnock had another good opportunity to create in the 23rd minute. A cross to the back post by Sean Longstaff found Kris Boyd who directed the ball back across goal. The ball fell to Sammon who was at too tight an angle to shoot so he turned it back into the danger area. Kris Boyd then gets on the ball but he is called offside and the frantic pinball was over for now.
Towards the end of the first half the high-pressing Killie side seemed to be tiring which allowed Thistle more of the ball as the visitors began to use the ball more effectively and with four minutes left until half time, the hosts were almost punished for not taking the lead while in control. A loose ball fell to Steven Lawless who quickly shot on the half-volley. The wide midfielder saw his effort rebound off the crossbar and the danger was cleared as the Jags had their first serious effort on goal.
The game went into half time goalless and, in all honesty, the Jags would have been happy with that. Killie came out flying, getting the better of the early play. Tomas Cerny was forced into a couple of saves in the opening 45 with Conor Sammon and Kris Boyd causing the Thistle backline major problems. You would imagine that the away side would look to improve for the second half as the Killie side, who pressed well in the first half, continue to tire.
Just two minutes after second half kick-off, the Jags were presented with a golden opportunity. A low Kris Doolan cross looked like it was going to be easily cleared by Ajer but the Killie man sliced his attempt and it fell to Ryan Edwards. Unfortunately for the Australian, his first touch made the shot a difficult one to take as he had to shoot from a perpendicular angle to the goal. In the end, his effort went wide of the near post.
In the 56th minute, Chris Erskine went close for the away team. A deep Edwards cross caused some trouble in the Killie box and the ball fell to Erskine after some head tennis on the edge of the Kilmarnock box. The attacking midfielder then tried a volley from 20 yards but he shot just wide as Thistle seemed to have taken control of proceedings.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, Thistle were denied by the woodwork once again. Abdul Osman’s cross was controlled by Adam Barton on the edge of the box and the midfielder half-volleyed at goal. The shot comes off the inside of the far post before flashing across the goalmouth and going out for a goal kick agonisingly for the travelling support behind the goal.
However, that chance would not deter the Maryhill men and just three minutes later, they had the lead. After a clever Steven Lawless pass, Christie Elliott had space on the left wing. Elliott whipped a cross in from the left and Erskine attempted to head down to a teammate but it was blocked and fell back to him fortuitously. He then took a touch out of his feet before finding the bottom corner, beating Woodman at the near post.
As the game entered the last five minutes, Kilmarnock were throwing everything at the Jags backline. They were playing three strikers and with just three minutes left, they got the goal they so desperately needed. Conor Sammon picked up the ball 30 yards from goal and shot from range. The attempt was straight at Tomas Cerny and it seemed a routine saved for the Czech ‘keeper but he was unable to hold the shot and it bobbled into the net as the Jags team could only watch on as their lead disappeared.
Killie did push for a winner but couldn’t find it. They did have the ball in the net at one point but the goal was chalked off for a foul in the box and the game ended level.
The late equaliser kept Killie within touching distance of the top six as Thistle dropped yet more points to late goals.
The team now head into an international break as they prepare for a part of the season that will make or break the campaign. There are four games left to play before the split and the next match is at home to Ross County on Saturday the 1st of April at Firhill with kick-off at 15:00.