Friday 2nd August, 2013 at 2:00pm
Thistle’s first game back in the top flight of Scottish football for over 9 years failed to produce a goal but there was no shortage of entertainment for the crowd of just a little under 8,000.
Thistle manager Alan Archibald’s team selection showed his faith in the side that had won, and won well, last season’s First Division. Only one of the starting eleven, Gary Fraser, hadn’t been a part of last season’s successful squad. The 90 minutes of pulsating action that followed showed that while the Thistle players have little experience of top flight football they did not look out of place there; quite the reverse.
Thistle adopted a positive approach to the game right from the first whistle but it was Scott Fox, who would have an excellent game, that was the first of the two goalkeepers to be called into action; clawing away a deflected cross from Gauld from almost right underneath his crossbar.
The early pressure though was all Thistle’s. Four corners in quick succession were won and with Taylor-Sinclair looking impeded as one came over Thistle had a not unreasonable claim for a penalty.
In the 12th minute Thistle were close to taking the lead. Gary Fraser’s crossfield pass picked out Taylor-Sinclair who, from wide on the left, swung over a dangerous looking cross. Kris Doolan was unable to connect with it but the ball bounced back off United defender Butcher back towards his own goal but went agonizingly wide.
At times Thistle were perhaps a little guilty of cheaply conceding possession of the ball and they could have been punished for that when Gauld was able to pick out Goodwillie in the Thistle box, but the United striker was unable to make anything of the opportunity given to him.
He did, however, force Scott Fox into a splendid one handed saw low to his right with a header following a cross from the right after 16 minutes.
Almost immediately following that near thing Paul Paton nearly marked his return to Firhill with a goal. Scott Fox was again tested to the limit, this time doing well to tip Paton’s ferocious drive over the bar.
There was plenty, however, activity at the other end with United at times had pressed to deal with Thistle’s pacey thrusts towards their goal. Kris Doolan was inches away from connecting with a Stuart Bannigan cross from the left and a first time shot from James Craigen went wide of Cierzniak’s left hand post.
As Thistle continued to press for the goal their play probably merited; Kris Doolan glanced a Taylor-Sinclair cross wide of target and both Stuart Bannigan and James Craigen had shots blocked in quick succession by United defenders.
United though remained a very real threat themselves. Andrew Robertson was able to display a good turn of pace down the Thistle left and his excellent cross caused the Thistle defence a whole host of problems before Scott Fox was able to punch the ball clear.
It was Thistle that would come the closest to taking a half-time lead. The half time whistle was just 9 minutes away when a Thistle cross bounced off Sean Dillion and it took an excellent stop from Cierzniak to prevent his team mate from scoring an own goal.
It was United who started the second half the better. Goodwillie demonstrated what a dangerous player he is when he curled a shot from the right corner of the Thistle box wide of the opposite post before testing Scott Fox with a well struck effort after he managed to evade the attentions of Conrad Balatoni.
Thistle though were soon seen as an attacking force again. Kris Doolan saw a shot tipped over the bar by Cierzniak and in the 64th minute Taylor-Sinclair was only a fraction off target with a well struck free kick from just a few yards outside the United box.
Play in a very open game quickly switched to the other end and Scott Fox came out his penalty area to clear ahead of Goodwillie only to come off second best. Just when it looked that United and Goodwillie would profit and open the scoring; Conrad Balatoni was able to make a timely intervention.
Tempers flared shortly afterwards when Butcher’s lunge on Gary Fraser was punished only by a yellow card when many people felt that the colour of the referee’s card should have been red.
Fraser, who had an excellent Thistle debut before being replaced by Ross Forbes, wasn’t affected by that challenge and he tested Cierzniak with a well struck shot that was heading for the bottom right hand corner.
John Baird, on as a substitute for Kris Doolan, too came close with a header from close range that Cierzniak was hard pressed to touch over his crossbar.
There was little doubt that both teams desperately wanted to win this game. Brian Graham, often a thorn in Thistle’s side in the past, was denied by another good Scott Fox stop while Taylor-Sinclair shot into the side netting for Thistle after collecting a pass from Steven Lawless.
If Butcher was lucky not to be punished more severely for his challenge on Gary Fraser he was fortunate to escape any punishment at all when he lunged in on Stuart Bannigan inside the United box as Thistle, for the second time during the game, had a strong claim for a penalty.
Thistle too could have won the game deep into injury time. Ross Forbes let fly from fully 30 yards from goal and with the ball swerving in front of him Cierzniak produced a good save to keep the ball out and preserve the 0-0 score line.