Monday 1st May, 2017 at 11:04pm
After an encouraging and battling 1-0 win over St. Mirren, Partick Thistle’s development team played their final game of the season at the Excelsior Stadium. Thistle took on Dundee United in Airdrie with seventh place still possible for the young Jags.
Jack Livesey started in goals for Thistle behind a back four of John Kelly, Harry Granger, Edin Lynch and Matthew McInally. Lee Duncanson and Dakota King started on the wings with Antony Eadie, Paul Smith and Mark Lamont forming a midfield triangle. Neil McLaughlin lead the line as a sole striker.
It was a scrappy start to proceedings at the Excelsior as neither team was able to get the ball down and produce some passing play. Heavy touches and misplaced passes were common in the opening stages.
The first chance of the match fell 16 minutes in. Louis Appere was fed the ball in the box and touched it back to his teammate, Logan Chalmers. The number 7 turned past his marker and shot from just outside the 18-yard box but his attempt looped onto the roof of the net causing but a small scare for the Jags.
Apart from that, chances were scarce for the first half but the deadlock would be broken in the opening 45. With ten minutes to go until the interval Thistle won a penalty. When a corner came in, Dakota King was bundled over by a defender and the referee pointed to the spot. Neil McLaughlin was the man to step up and take the penalty and he handled it excellently. The development squad Player of the Year sent the opposition ‘keeper the wrong way and put his side one up.
Four minutes after the opener, Thistle almost doubled their lead. Matthew McInally was able to beat the Dundee United offside trap and raced into the box, free of challenge. He had the option of squaring to King but went himself, however, the ‘keeper stood tall and blocked his effort at the near post.
That was how it would stay, going into the break. It was a subdued first half to say the least. It was a very young Jags side out there, more so than usual, and you could tell they weren’t quite established as players at this level, stepping up from the u17s. There were plenty of misplaced passes and miscontrolled touches for the opening 45 and it took a penalty that separates the sides at the break.
Twelve minutes into the second half, Dundee United had a chance to level things. Logan Chalmers was played the ball as he moved into the Thistle box and he tried a shot at the near post. However, Livesey was quick to react and turned it behind for a corner which came to nothing.
United would be made to rue that missed chance as the Jags doubled the deficit in the 63rd minute. Ross Fleming did well to keep the ball in from a cross that found no-one. He cut onto his right and crossed an in-swinging ball towards the six-yard box where James Stokes met it, guiding the ball into the far corner with a glancing header and making it 2-0.
The Thistle team didn’t hold up there and they made it three in the 67th minute. Aidan Fitzpatrick was played down the right wing, behind his man and he had acres of space and plenty of time to pick out a pass. He saw McLaughlin arriving at the back post and found him with a square ball. The striker tapped the ball towards goal but the ‘keeper looked to get something to it, however, he couldn’t keep it out and it dribbled in.
Just when everyone thought the Jags would sit back and protect the three-goal lead, they scored again in the 72nd. Lee Duncanson spotted McLaughlin in behind his marker and picked him out excellently with a floated ball. The striker then took a touch to bring it down and lifted the ball over the United goalie finding the net and completing his fifth hat-trick of the season.
After this goal blitz by Thistle, the visitors would pull one back through Logan Chalmers. Chalmers hit a fairly tame effort from 25 yards which Livesey left, expecting it to curl wide of the target but the ‘stopper had misjudged it as it nestled into the corner, providing what was surely just a consolation goal for United.
A mere consolation turned into a slight worry for Scott MacKenzie’s side as the away side grabbed a second. Ross Fleming came across the box to clear the ball but he knocked it down and straight to Chalmers who powerfully finished across the goal creating a potentially nervy closing six minutes for Thistle.
Despite this small fright, the game would finish 4-2 as the young Jags picked up an impressive victory of their closing match of the season. It was a scintillating performance for the first 25 minutes of that second half. The young side came out roaring, hugely thanks to the two half-time changes made by Scott MacKenzie and the plethora of options on the Thistle bench were the difference as the United management team had just two outfield substitutes to choose from.
Two second half goals from Neil McLaughlin to complete his hat-trick appropriately ended a season in which he has shone. Substitute James Stokes also got on the scoresheet with a smart header from eight yards out. Two late goals put a slight sense of the fear in the Thistle ranks but it was just a scare and nothing more.
The Development League gets back up and running in August and the new set of youthful Jags players will start a new journey after the summer.