Saturday 15th July, 2017 at 5:30pm
After a summer hiatus, competitive football is back for Partick Thistle. The Betfred Cup group stages present an early challenge for the Jags with four matches before the start of the league campaign. The first of those four came at the Tony Macaroni Arena with Livingston the opposition. Livi are coming into the new season as a Championship club having won the Ladbrokes League One title last season.
Alan Archibald had a lessened number of players to select from for this fixture due to injuries. Abdul Osman, Mustapha Dumbuya, Callum Booth and Niall Keown were all unavailable for the game meaning the team was a depleted one.
Tomas Cerny started in goals for the Jags behind a back four of Christie Elliott, Adam Barton, Daniel Devine and James Penrice. Ryan Edwards started at the base of the midfield alongside Stuart Bannigan who made his first competitive start for 15 months today. Steven Lawless, Chris Erskine and summer signing, Blair Spittal formed a dangerous trio in behind the sole striker and today’s captain, Kris Doolan.
Livingston got things underway but two minutes in, they were almost behind. Blair Spittal was putting pressure on the Livi backline which led to a poor clearance that fell to Chris Erskine 20 yards from goal. The no. 10 took it down and shot but Neil Alexander was alert in the Lions’ goal and held the attempt safely.
Despite that early Thistle chance, Livi weren’t discouraged and produced a chance of their own in the fourth minute. A smart ball found Dale Carrick in behind his marker, in the Thistle area and he tried a shot. Tomas Cerny was able to smother the chance but when the rebound fell in the box, Ryan Edwards had to act fast to block.
Thistle created another chance in the sixth minute in what was fast becoming an exciting match. Chris Erskine won a midfield battle before slotting the ball through to Kris Doolan. The stand-in skipper unleashed a low shot towards the near post but Neil Alexander was equal to it and made a fine save to deny the Thistle centurion his first goal of the new season.
After these early chances it wasn’t long until the deadlock was broken and it would be the visitors who grabbed the opener. Chris Erskine picked up the ball 20 yards from goal and shimmied past his man before curling an exquisite shot into the top corner to give the Maryhill men lead in West Lothian.
It looked as if Livi had equalised in the 22nd minute when they found the back of the net following a long throw-in but luckily for the away side, it was ruled out. The ball looped high into the air after a sliced defensive clearance and it was nodded home. The home crowd cheered as they believed that they’d drawn level but the referee blew his whistle for a foul on Jags ‘keeper, Tomas Cerny.
The game’s next opportunity also fell to the hosts as they went close in the 32nd minute. A quick one-two between Matthew Knox and Danny Mullen created space for Knox to shoot from range but the no. 16 dragged his shot wide of the target.
Following Livingston’s disallowed goal, it was only fair that the Jags had one of their own. In the 33rd minute Steven Lawless did some excellent work on the edge of the box, shifting past two Livi players, before shooting. Neil Alexander was equal to his effort but the ex-Hearts ‘stopper couldn’t hold it and the loose ball fell to James Penrice who tapped home. Unfortunately for the young defender, the lineswoman had her flag up to deny him his first senior goal.
It looked like the game was going to be level heading into the break but the Lions had one last chance to equalise, two minutes before the interval. Scott Pittman managed to break through a weak challenge from Adam Barton, allowing him to bear down on goal. He hit a low effort on goal but Tomas Cerny was equal to it. When he got to the rebound, it was at such an angle that he could only square the ball across the face of the goal.
So the game did reach half-time at 1-0 with the solitary Chris Erskine goal all that separated the sides. The Jags would be disappointed to have only garnered one goal from an impressive opening 20 minutes. The team looked decent going forward but shaky at the back with Abdul Osman’s organisation and Niall Keown’s no-nonsense defending missing. The Jags would be looking for a good start to the second half as they can’t afford to let a decent Livi side back into the game early in the second period. The home side do have the advantage of a full bench with some quality on it opposed to the Jags’ bench full of youngsters.
If Archie was looking for a strong start to the second 45 then he got the opposite as the hosts equalised in the 46th minute. The ball fell to Livingston no. 14 Keaghan Jacobs who cleverly shifted away from Ryan Edwards before firing a powerful shot into the top corner, beating Tomas Cerny all ends up. The goal brought the Lions level and set the tone for the second half.
Shortly after the goal there was a change in shape for Thistle. They went from a four-at-the-back to a three-at-the-back. James Penrice dropped in to become the left-most centre-half of a three while Christie Elliott and Blair Spittal operated as wing-backs.
The teams traded attacks for a period of the second half with Kris Doolan and Rafa De-Vita both being presented with half-chances. However, in the 71st minute Doolan should have netted. Blair Spittal’s corner found Adam Barton who nodded down to Doolan. The striker took a hit but sliced his shot and missed the target at the near post. A minute after that chance, Thistle made their only substitution of the game as Chris Erskine was replaced by Kevin Nisbet, the most experienced member of the substitutes.
The Jags were almost made to pay for that missed opportunity with 11 minutes to go as Tomas Cerny was forced into a save. Livi goalscorer Keaghan Jacobs hit a cross into the middle and Tomas Cerny moved forward to catch the delivery. The Czech ‘keeper was almost caught out, however, as the ball kept travelling towards goal and he had to backpedal urgently to turn it over the crossbar.
That would be the final real opportunity of the match as things ended 1-1 at the culmination of the regulation 90 minutes. This, of course, meant that the game would go to penalties as the teams jostled for the bonus point that is available to the winners if said penalty shootout in the Betfred Cup.
Thistle would go first and the first man to step up was Stuart Bannigan. He slammed home confidently from 12 yards to give Thistle the lead, however, Livi also scored their opening spot kick despite Tomas Cerny getting a hand to it.
The Jags’ next kick-taker was Christie Elliott. The ex-Whitley Bay player stepped up but unfortunately, Neil Alexander guessed correctly and gave his side the advantage. The next Lions taker didn’t waste the advantage either as he cools beat Tomas Cerny from 12 yards.
Next up for Thistle was new wideman, Blair Spittal, who had a fairly strong game at the Tony Macaroni Arena. He went the same way as Elliott and it produced the same result as Alexander turned it away. Suddenly, all the pressure was piled on Thistle’s next taker as Livi made it three penalties out of three.
Finally, the Firhill side’s fourth penalty taker was Kris Doolan. Doolan has only taken one penalty since the Jags were promoted in 2013 and he missed that one against Inverness at Firhill. Unfortunately, for the Thistle centurion it was the same situation today as Neil Alexander completed a superb shootout performance by saving he spot kick and in the process giving Livingston the bonus point in Betfred Cup group H.
Alan Archibald must now look towards next Saturday’s clash with St. Mirren as the Jags take on the Buddies at Firhill in another Premiership vs. Championship collision. Kick-off is at 15:00.
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