Monday 11th March, 2019 at 5:25pm
The Jags returned to league action after their Scottish Cup quarter-final draw with Hearts on Monday. Dundee United were the visitors to the Energy Check Stadium at Firhill for a massive game in the Ladbrokes Championship.
Thistle had lost their previous two league games to Ross County and Dunfermline but were aiming to get back on track against a Terrors side which had lost their own quarter-final in the 90th minute six days prior. Falkirk winning on Friday night brought extra pressure for the Jags as the home side risked losing ground on their rivals.
Gary Caldwell made three changes to the side which drew with Hearts earlier in the week with two players making full returns from injury. Conor Hazard remained in goals behind the back four of James Penrice, Steven Saunders, Steven Anderson and Christie Elliott who was back to right-back after an adventure forward into the midfield against the Jambos in the Scottish Cup.
Jack McMillan continued to prove his versatility by turning out in central midfield alongside Craig Slater who sat just behind Blair Spittal. On the wings, Joe Cardle and Miles Storey started for the first time since their respective injuries against Queen of the South and East Fife while Scott McDonald came in at centre forward. On the bench for the home side were Jamie Sneddon, Sean McGinty, Gary Harkins, Aidan Fitzpatrick, Kris Doolan, Lewis Mansell and Ally Roy.
After the team’s poor start on Monday evening, Thistle were keen to start well and they did that perfectly by netting the opener after four minutes. The goal came from Joe Cardle’s right boot as he lifted a perfectly weighted ball into the box for Scott McDonald to head goalward. The Australian met the ball well and beat Benjamin Siegrist despite the Swiss ‘keeper getting something to it. The goal was McDonald’s second as a Jag and his first at in Maryhill – for the right team.
The Jags then very nearly went 2-0 up as Joe Cardle knocked a cross down into the path of Blair Spittal. The number seven met the ball on the half-volley but failed to keep his effort down as it went inches over the bar.
United looked to respond and almost came up with an equaliser on 12 minutes through wideman, Paul McMullan. A cross from the Tangerines’ left deflected to the winger at the back post and he scuffed his first shot. The ball fell back to him though and he got a second bite at the cherry which he also made a mess of, volleying over the bar from close range, letting Thistle off with a nervous moment.
The visitors had another chance to make it 1-1 in the 33rd minute through 10 goal striker, Nicky Clark. It was another cross from the United left creating the danger as the delivery was kept alive at the back post by Paul McMullan. His flick fell to Clark who tried the first-time volley on the half-turn, however, the ex-Dunfermline man blasted the ball high into the John Lambie Stand behind the goal.
That was all for the first half and the Jags would have been very happy with their performance up until the break. Having taken the lead just four minutes into the game, they’d gone on to limit Dundee United to a couple of half chances ahead of the break.
Thistle started the second half as they did the first and could have had a second goal seven minutes after the break. The opportunity came from a United mistake as Mark Reynolds tried a badly misjudged header back to his ‘keeper which Scott McDonald intercepted. The number 10 tried a quick shot but Siegrist was able to get a hand to it and turn the ball past the post.
Gary Caldwell made his first change of the game on 57 minutes as youngster Aidan Fitzpatrick replaced Joe Cardle.
Referee, Alan Newlands had his biggest moment of the game with 20 minutes to play as Jamie Robson was fed the ball in behind the covering Miles Storey. Storey tried to tackle the full-back who had rushed into the box and Robson went down while the ball flew behind. The United players were adamant that they should have had a spot kick, however, the man with the whistle decreed that Storey had got the ball and a corner was awarded.
A couple of minutes later, Miles was replaced by Lewis Mansell who went up front with Scott McDonald dropping into the hole and Blair Spittal moving out to the wing where Storey had been.
Robbie Neilson’s side weren’t deterred by the non-penalty and were able to score an equaliser with 15 minutes to play. Nicky Clark was the man to net the leveller as his low, drilled free-kick from 20 yards managed to beat Conor Hazard on the goalkeeper’s side of the wall. After the shot found the net, Hazard had a few choice words for his wall who he felt had obscured his view of the effort.
Then, in the 80th minute, Hazard was heavily involved again, this time keeping Thistle on level terms. It was Cammy Smith coming in from the left-hand side and playing a one-two with Pavol Safranko to create some space in the box. As a result, Smith found space around eight yards out but the man who once scored a hat-trick against the Jags for the Tangerines was unable to beat Conor Hazard with the Northern Irishman making the vital save to deny the visitors the lead.
The Maryhill men made their last alteration of the game as Scott McDonald was taken off to be replaced by Gary Harkins.
Just one minute after that substitution, Thistle could have retaken the lead on the break, as Aidan Fitzpatrick turned Mark Connolly and charged towards the Dundee United box. The number 21 had the option of a square pass to Lewis Mansell but opted to take a shot on, however, unfortunately for Aidan, Mark Reynolds managed to deflect his effort over the bar.
There would be time for another chance though and the away side would be having some serious deja vu as they lost to a 90th minute winner for the second week in a row. Once again it was a quick break from the Jags which spawned the danger with Craig Slater finding Lewis Mansell, allowing the number 30 to power away from Jamie Robson before passing to Aidan Fitzpatrick with the outside of his right foot. The ball rolled into the winger’s path and he simply played it back across goal, into the far corner to give Thistle a dramatic win against the Championship’s second best side.
Pavol Safranko had the ball in the net in injury time but the offside flag was up and that was the extent of United’s response as the hosts saw out what would prove to be a vital win with Alloa losing in one of the day’s other fixtures. As a consequence, the Wasps fell to bottom of the Championship, two points behind Thistle.
Up next for the men in red and yellow is a trip to Tynecastle to take on Hearts with a place at Hampden in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-finals at stake. Kick-off is 19:45 on Tuesday in the capital.
PARTICK THISTLE TEAM: Hazard, Penrice, Saunders, Anderson, Elliott, McMillan, Slater, Spittal, Cardle (Fitzpatrick, 57’), Storey (Mansell, 72’), McDonald (Harkins, 82’).
UNUSED SUBS (PTH): Sneddon, McGinty, Doolan, Roy.
DUNDEE UNITED TEAM: Siegrist, Robson, Connolly, Reynolds, Seaman (Smith, 71’), Harkes, Butcher, McMullan, Nesbitt (Stanton, 59’), Clark, Sow (Safranko, 19’).
UNUSED SUBS (DUN): Laidlaw, Booth, Watson, Fyvie.