Saturday 10th August, 2013 at 2:02pm
After a positive start to the league season against Dundee United, but only a single point; Thistle recorded their first Premiership win in fine style at Ross County. The final score of 3-1 in Thistle’s favour flattering only the home side.
Manager Alan Archibald selected the same starting eleven that opened the league season against Dundee United with the only change coming on the bench where new signing Kallum Higginbotham replaced Henoc Mukendi.
On an immaculate playing surface at a much changed Victoria Park, Thistle settled quickly in this match. Taking a firm grip of things in midfield Thistle very quickly dominated in terms of possession and in using the full width of the pitch they looked a potent threat when attacking with pace and vigour.
Thistle had the home goal under threat for the first time after 7 minutes. Kris Doolan was able to collect Stephen O’Donnell’s chipped pass into the County box but Kovacevic was quickly across to clear.
Seven minutes later and Thistle were close to taking the lead. County simply couldn’t cope with Steven Lawless and his well judged pass picked out Stuart Bannigan. Bannigan elected to take a touch before shooting and while that allowed himself to steady himself it also allowed a defender to get back and block his shot.
Thistle though would be in front just 4 minutes later. Gary Fraser swung over a corner from the left, Conrad Balatoni headed it towards goal and at the back post Kris Doolan was on hand to knock the ball into the net from about a yard out.
County’s response to the loss of that goal was easily dealt with by an organised and disciplined Thistle side that remained a real threat themselves. Lawless was able to cut across the edge of the County box only to see his shot blocked and seconds later he curled an effort over Brown’s bar.
Only once in the first half did the home side look like scoring and that chance came as a result of an unfortunate slip from Conrad Balatoni. That slip allowed Mustafi a clear sight of goal but Balatoni’s central defensive partner Aaron Muirhead was on hand to cover and make an important block.
County made a couple of changes at the interval but it made no real difference to the pattern of play. Indeed by the hour mark Thistle were more or less out of sight and well on the way to their first league victory of the season.
Sean Welsh came close with an effort following a Fraser corner with Aaron Muirhead unfortunate not to be able to turn the ball into the net from close range when Welsh’s effort was cleared from the line in the first serious action of the second half.
Thistle were nearly gift wrapped a second goal in the 52nd minute as they continued to dominate proceedings. Mark Brown’s poor clearance was seized by Steven Lawless who threaded the ball through to James Craigen but the County keeper was able to redeem himself with an excellent save.
Ninety seconds later, however, he was picking the ball out of the net as Thistle did claim a second goal. Steven Lawless’ pass picked out Stuart Bannigan and although Brown managed to keep Bannigan’s shot out the loose ball fell perfectly for Lawless who drilled a low shot into the corner of the net.
Six minutes later and it was 3-0. James Craigen’s ball picked out Stuart Bannigan. When left with just Brown to beat Bannigan unselfishly crossed for Steven Lawless at the back post and he was left with the simple task of providing the finish to another excellent Thistle move.
Substitute John Baird had a couple of efforts on goal and Gary Fraser ambitiously tried to test Brown from fully 35 yards out as a rampant Thistle side looked to add further goals. It was County though, with 19 minutes remaining; that scored the game’s next goal. There was more than a touch of good fortune to it. Graham Carey’s shot deflected off the boot of Sean Welsh and looped over the head of Scott Fox.
Was there time for a County fight back? Scott Fox did have to make a decent save to his left to prevent a Carey free kick, also deflected, from finding the net and a low free kick De Leeuw skidded in front of Fox and required the combined efforts of the Thistle keeper and Aaron Muirhead to clear the ball. In truth though it was Thistle that looked the more likely to score again.
New signing Kallum Higginbotham was introduced into the action and he was denied a debut goal when his curling 89th minute was disallowed for what can only be assumed to be offside against John Baird.
Stephen O’Donnell too came close when , showing great energy for the 90th minute of a game, he pushed forward down the right hand side and forced Brown into same late action.
When the full-time whistle sounded a few minutes later the delighted Thistle fans were quick to show their appreciation of their team’s effort and the players too quickly acknowledged the support they had received.
It, of course, remains very early days but this was a performance that offers huge encouragement for the season ahead.