Saturday 4th October, 2014 at 6:56pm
Thistle bounced back from the disappointment of defeat Rugby Park in the best possible fashion as they recorded their first win over Motherwell for nearly 11 years.
The news that Kallum Higginbotham, so often an inspiration, is due to be missing for a period following surgery was a blow and manager Alan Archibald made three changes to the side that went down 3-0 to Kilmarnock. Christie Elliott replaced the aforementioned Higginbotham while there was a first league start of the season for James Craigen and a first start since August for Stephen O’Donnell. All three of those players would play significant roles in Thistle’s eventual success.
With both sides having experienced disappointing results the previous weekend it was perhaps understandable that there was a nervous feel to the opening exchanges although Thistle were the first of the two sides to settle.
It was Motherwell, however, in a rare attack on the Thistle goal that almost snatched an 11th minute lead. Josh Law was able to clip over a cross from the left to the near post where Henrik Ojamaa’s header brushed the frame of the Thistle goal.
Thistle though found themselves in front just five minutes later. Steven Lawless had been a major pre-match injury doubt but he was having a big influence on proceedings all the same. His sharp turn in the 15th minute gave the former Motherwell player some space just outside the box and his effort that went narrowly wide was a warning shot across Motherwell’s bows.
It was a warning that Motherwell paid little heed to as sixty seconds later Thistle were celebrating the game’s opening goal. Again Lawless found himself in a little pocket of space and he spotted Stuart Bannigan to his left who fired high into the net for his second goal of the season.
Thistle continued to look the better side in the first half without really looking like adding to Bannigan’s goal. Kris Doolan saw a snap shot from the edge of the box saved by Twardzik after Stuart Bannigan had been able to nod the ball onto him.
Doolan was again involved in a thrust towards the Motherwell goal in the 35th minute when he was able to get the better of McManus as the two players challenged for a long ball forward from Balatoni. Doolan was able to work the ball out into the path of Christie Elliott but his shot neither had the power nor the direction to seriously trouble Twardzik.
Motherwell meantime were making little impact on a compact, well organised Thistle defence. They were, however, able to end the half with a spell of possession and pressure but the best they could muster was a curling effort from Law that never looked like troubling Scott Fox.
Thistle began the second half in promising fashion and Steven Lawless saw a shot blocked by a Motherwell defender less than 60 seconds after the restart.
A long range effort from James Craigen, after collecting a pass from Stuart Bannigan, went well wide of goal in the 56th minute before Craigen was heavily involved in Thistle’s second goal five minutes later.
It was an excellent team goal that began with Conrad Balatoni’s pass down the right hand side. Craigen’s flick sent Stephen O’Donnell clear and O’Donnell, who had posed Motherwell problems down the right flank in the first half, was able to use his pace to get clear and send over a cross that Kris Doolan fired into the back of the net.
Now with the relative cushion of a two goal lead Thistle looked to press home their advantage and James Craigen was close to a third goal only to be denied by Twardzik after Craigen had skipped past a challenge inside the Motherwell box.
With Thistle well in control and Motherwell looking a sorry lot things looked set for a comfortable home win as the game entered the final 20 minutes but out of the blue Motherwell were able to haul themselves right back into the game.
While Thistle were deserved winners of this game it was Motherwell that arguably scored the pick of the goals with Lionel Ainsworth’s long range effort leaving Scott Fox with no chance of saving.
Just how far out Ainsworth was depends on what account you listen to but what wasn’t in question was the lift the goal gave his side. Suddenly the outcome of this match was very much in the balance. Scott Fox had to claw another Ainsworth effort round the post for a corner and Conrad Balatoni was in the right place at the right time to complete a timely clearance from a dangerous cross from the Motherwell sub who was having a big impact on proceedings.
A third Thistle goal would have eased the Thistle nerves considerably at this point and it arrived in the 82nd minute. Nathan Eccleston had only being on the pitch for two minutes when he won the ball on the halfway line and he spotted Stephen O’Donnell’s run as Thistle caught Motherwell on the counter attack. Although left with just the keeper to beat O’Donnell still had a bit of work to do and while sometimes too much time and space can almost be a hindrance O’Donnell’s confident finish had all the hallmarks of a player used to playing further up the pitch than his full back position.
Eccleston, after providing the assist for the third goal, tried to get in on the act himself only to see his effort drift wide of target as Thistle looked to add to their tally.
It was Motherwell though that came closest to scoring again and it took an excellent save deep in injury time from Scott Fox to keep out a deflected Erwin effort; a goal that would have given the final score a deceptively close look.