Saturday 26th January, 2013 at 9:23pm
Victory over Cowdenbeath gave Thistle their second straight victory as they continued to keep pressure on Morton at the top of the table. The two previous meetings with Cowdenbeath this season, one in the league and the other in the Ramsdens Cup, produced narrow one goal Thistle victories and the margin of victory in this match was equally as tight as Thistle came from behind to claim the points.
Manager Jackie McNamara made a couple of changes to the side that had defeated Falkirk seven days earlier. The injury sustained by Steven Lawless in that match is going to keep him out of action for several weeks and his place in the side for this game went to James Craigen. There was also a start for Sean Welsh who occupied the right back position; a move that allowed Stuart Bannigan to move back into a midfield berth.
The visitors settled quickly into this match and they had already showed that they were capable of causing Thistle problems even before they took a 4th minute lead. An error from Conrad Balatoni left Kane Hemmings one on one with Scott Fox and the on loan striker fired across Fox and into the net.
Although Thistle were frequently able to get the ball into good positions wide on either flank it took them a little time to truly threaten the Cowdenbeath goal after the loss of that early goal. Indeed Cowdenbeath, with Hemmings continuing to look dangerous, were still looking a threat themselves.
Thistle though were back on level terms in the 25th minute. Steven Craig got two chances at the back post and after his first shot was blocked he made no mistake with his second.
There was as much relief as there was celebration at having established parity in the match and once level Thistle started to take a grip of proceedings.
Stuart Bannigan was having an excellent game and he helped create an opening in the 29th minute that nearly produced a Thistle goal. Bannigan’s cross to the back post was headed by Steven Craig into the path of Chris Erskine but Erskine wasn’t able to direct his shot on target.
As the pressure from Thistle mounted Flynn in the Cowdenbeath goal did well to claw away a Ross Forbes corner from right underneath his crossbar and although James Craigen, from just inside the Cowdenbeath box, was able to lift the ball over the head of Flynn he also cleared the bar in doing so.
The ability of Ross Forbes at set pieces is always likely to create chances and with half-time approaching from one such set piece Forbes himself was desperately unlucky not to find the back of the net. Thistle were a touch fortunate to be awarded a free kick at the right hand corner of the Cowdenbeath box and nearly profited from that good fortune with Forbes curling effort smacking off the post.
Thistle’s second goal though was only delayed by another couple of minutes. Conrad Balatoni was able to pull away from his marker as a Forbes corner came over from the left and he fired into the net to fully atone for his earlier error and score his third goal in the last two games.
With the benefit of that one goal lead Thistle spent much of the second half in total control of the game but they were never able to find the third goal that would have given them some breathing space despite numerous opportunities to do so.
To be fair it was, in the main, a combination of good goalkeeping and bad luck that prevented Thistle from scoring again.
Flynn made fine saves to deny Chris Erskine and, with the game in injury time, Sean Welsh while Thistle struck the frame of the Cowdenbeath goal for a second time when Conrad Balatoni’s header struck the bar with Steven Craig unable to direct the rebound into the back of the net.
Thistle too had the ball in the net in the 81st minute only to see Sean Welsh’s effort ruled out for an apparent foul on the goalkeeper.
A one goal lead is always a precarious one and the longer Thistle went without scoring a third goal the more nerves started to creep in. Anxiety levels rose when a Jamie Stevenson effort from fully 35 yards out was only narrowly wide of target and there was a further anxious moment for Thistle when Kane Hemmings’ header from a Linton free kick dropped wide of goal.
Thistle though were able to hold on for a richly deserved three points.