Partick Thistle 3 Dunfermline Athletic 3Author: Alistair Campbell Date: Saturday, 27th Apr 2013
Football has a strange capacity for being uplifting one moment before landing you a low blow the next. I don’t use the word “gutted” often, but it is the mot juste on this occasion as it describes how we all must have felt when the Jags equalised in the 95th minute. Partick had dominated the first half, but had only one goal to show for it, ironically scored by former Pars skipper Jordan McMillan. The introduction of Ryan Wallace at half-time had seemed a master-stroke as his equaliser and a double from Ryan Thomson had the Pars 3-1 up and avoiding the play-offs, before first Erskine pulled one back, and then Lawless equalised right at the death.
One thing about games at Partick (or anywhere involving Glasgow) is the potential for traffic problems (the embarrassment of missing a kick-off is still a painful memory.) This time these were largely of my own creation as I needed to get new tyres for my car first, but with Rangers not at home, the M8 was quiet and lost time was recovered en route. The other thing is you are never quite sure where you are going to be housed as a visiting supporter. It used to be normal to be in the North Stand behind the goal, whereas on both previous occasions this season we were in the Jackie Husband stand. However, with Thistle expecting a bumper crowd, we were put in the main stand, a rare privilege, even if it has quite a run-down appearance with paint flaking off the walls.
Chris Kane had picked up a suspension (already) so the Pars went with 3 in midfield (Husband, Falkingham and Byrne) and five at the back, bringing in John Potter alongside Morris and Young, as well as wing-backs Millen and Whittle, no doubt expecting the home team to have plenty of play. Smith and Thomson kept their starting places as the attacking force with Hrivnak once more in goals. So that was just the one change, but there was good news on the bench with the return of injury victims Wallace and Geggan, neither of whom had been expected to make it, and they were there with Munro, Ross Drummond and Goodfellow.
Thistle had made one or two changes – ex-Pars McMillan and Dowie both started, but more eyes would be on the likes of Forbes, Bannigan, Erskine and Lawless, who usually play well against the Pars.
Dunfermline were out first to give their opponents a guard of honour, fitting tribute to the deserved champions, and soon took the kick-off shooting towards the empty south end. The sides shared early half chances with a shot from an off-balance Falkingham and a free-kick well over the top from Forbes. The match settled down though, with the Pars on the back foot, although hopes were raised when Husband intercepted and a burst of pace saw Smith escape to the by-line, and the Pars won a corner.
That was a brief respite, as the Jags were enjoying the bulk of possession, with Bannigan instrumental in building up play from the back. Off the pitch there was plenty noise, the Jags fans taunting their opposite numbers with chants of “you’re only here to see the Thistle”, which were met with the retort “we’re only here to spoil the party”. On the field Kerr Young was booked for an obvious obstruction as McGuigan went past, and Thistle looked menacing with a quick passing move at the edge of the box which saw Erskine burst into the area, but having turned inside Morris to set up a shooting chance, Whittle was there to nick the ball away.
Lawless then got to the byeline but his cut-back missed everybody, before Thistle took a deserved lead from unpromising circumstances. Defending deep on their left, they passed their way up and across the park, through the midfield, and with Erskine in possession, he slipped the ball to McMillan who hit a first time drive into the far corner of the net. A great goal, and 1-0 Thistle.
It wasn’t all Thistle – on the half hour a deft Morris pass sent Whittle up the left and Sinclair was forced to turn his dangerous cross over his own cross-bar for a Pars corner, but this led to nothing as again the visitors were penalised for a foul on the keeper.
Meanwhile the Pars keeper nearly had a moment, deciding to come out of his box to collect an aimless pass rather than let it run out for a bye-kick. He had aimed to take the ball into his own box, but McGuigan had anticipated this - Hrivnak judged correctly that he could make it home safely, flopping on the ball as soon as he had dribbled it back into his area. The Slovak looked safer on his line, punching one cross away under pressure and tipping away a header as the Pars continued to be pressed back.
There were no further scares, indeed late on Smith positioned himself well to hold up a clearance, found Husband and he set up Falkingham who looked to be fouled at the edge of the area, kept going, but dragged his shot across goal. Nevertheless, Jefferies was deep in discussion with Neil McCann, and changes would be made at the break.
Half time: Jags 1 Pars 0
Sure enough, Wallace, who had done some late warming up, came on at the start of the second half instead of Potter, playing just behind the front two. This made a big difference, as not only were the Pars much more competitive in midfield, but they were able to take the game to the Jags, with Wallace’s close control and speed a huge asset.
Within five minutes Falkingham had sent Wallace up the left, and he had outpaced Dowie, but his flick past the outrushing Fox missed both Smith and the goal. Four minutes later Thomson got the benefit of the doubt from referee Collum for a challenge by the touchline, fed Falkingham whose brilliant turn set up a great chance, but he squared the ball to Smith, and with the goal gaping, his shot hit Balatoni on the line. Skip forward another 5 minutes the Pars had another great chance – this time it was Smith going down the right and Thomson dummying his cutback, but Wallace blasted off the keeper from 8 yards – another incredible miss.