Wednesday 13th August, 2014 at 9:50am
An excellent all round team performance with no failures, four goals scored and a clean sheet mean that Thistle’s start to the 2014-2015 season was as close to perfect as you are likely to get.
When the teams were announced there were a few eyebrows raised at the Thistle starting eleven. There was no starting berth for last season’s top scorer Kris Doolan while Scott Fox was given the nod ahead of Paul Gallacher to start the season in goal. There were debuts too for Ryan Stevenson, Abdul Osman and Danny Seaborne; the last named player only joining the Club on Monday.
Whether the manager’s team selection was a result of something he saw while watching County in action at the weekend or something that he had in mind all along is unclear but what was emphatically clear by the end of the 90 minutes was the success of his side’s performance.
The opening exchanges of the match were largely confined to the midfield but from very early on Thistle looked comfortable and in control of the midfield area. Their first chance came in the 10th minute when County keeper Reguero did well to punch clear a Stephen O’Donnell cross ahead of a lurking Ryan Stevenson.
You can guarantee over the course of a long season that there will be controversial moments aplenty and we had the first such incident of this season in the 18th minute. Kallum Higginbotham was able to collect a misplaced County defence and when he nipped the ball round the advancing Reguero he found himself dumped on the turf inside the County penalty box after Reguero’s desperate challenge. In most people’s eyes it was a clear penalty and a possible red card for the goalkeeper but the referee saw things differently and booked Higginbotham.
If anything that decision seemed to spur Thistle on. An excellent interchange of play involving Stevenson and Higginbotham finished with the latter’s cross flying across the face of the County goal with nobody on hand to apply a finish.
A minute later Thistle were again close to an opening goal with Gary Fraser just unable to squeeze the ball home at the back post after gathering a Stephen O’Donnell cross.
Higginbotham was a constant menace to the County defence and his cross, with the outside of his foot, picked out Ryan Stevenson in the 27th minute but Stevenson’s header was too straight to truly trouble Reguero.
Still Thistle pressed for an opening goal and Stuart Bannigan was close to providing that goal in the 29th minute but he saw his shot palmed away by Reguero after he had collected a pass from Steven Lawless.
Gary Fraser and Jordan McMillan both had efforts on goal, Fraser’s from the edge of the box just curling too late, as Thistle continued to take a grip on the game but as dominant as they were they very nearly found themselves trailing in the 38th minute when Jervis was able to gather a simple long ball up field but he dragged his shot wide of goal.
Just over a minute later though Thistle finally had the goal that their performance merited; Kallum Higginbotham spotted Stuart Bannigan to his left and Bannigan lifted the ball over the advancing Reguero for his first goal since December 2012.
County, out of the game for long spells, finished the half strongly and were twice close to snatching an equaliser as half-time approached. Firstly Scott Fox produced an excellent save to push an effort from Quinn over his crossbar before a Carey effort from the left hand corner of the Thistle box clipped the top of the Thistle crossbar.
Thistle well and truly pressed home their advantage in the second half although there was an element of good fortune surrounding their second goal 8 minutes after the restart. Stephen O’Donnell sent over a cross from the right hand side that was diverted past his own keeper by County substitute Frempah.
Thistle were playing with great confidence at this point and only a save with his feet from Reguero prevented Gary Fraser from adding a third goal in the 63rd minute.
Had County, however, pulled a goal back then Thistle could have had to endure an extremely nervy closing quarter of the game and it took a fantastic save, at point blank range, from Scott Fox to stop Jervis from finding the net after Cardle had crossed from the left.
The third Thistle goal in the 73rd minute all but secured the win and it was the pick of the Thistle goals. A superb back heel from Ryan Stevenson set up Steven Lawless. Lawless in turn pushed the ball to Christie Elliott who then knocked the ball back into the path of Gary Fraser who found the corner of the net with a well struck shot.
Thistle weren’t finished yet. Reguero did well to claw away a Christie Elliott cross but only as far as Ryan Stevenson who lashed a shot into the side netting.
A fourth goal did arrive, however, with the game in injury time. Stephen O’Donnell may well want to claim Thistle’s second goal as his own but there was no doubting his claim to the fourth and final goal of the night as he cut into the County box before planting a low shot into the net.
Thistle might even have had a fifth before the final whistle with Ryan Stevenson denied a debut goal by a save from the hard pressed Reguero.