First Published 22.09.13 WeAreFreeAgents
As I trudged up to Firhill this afternoon through the rising Maryhill tenements, saturated in late September drizzle I was approached by a ‘wee auld wumin,’ wrapped up to the eyes in Partick Thistle regalia, who reassured me sweetly that this wasn’t the sort of rain that got you wet.
On the pitch the Jags subsequently gave some credibility to that classic piece of Old Lady Nonsense. Aberdeen well and truly brought the rain last week – leading many supporters to wonder whether that sunshine-drenched opening month to the season was at a premature end – but on the evidence of today’s performance, Thistle have made it through dry enough.
A draw at home against a struggling Kilmarnock team may not look all that great on the surface, but Thistle are back to looking like a decent SPFL outfit.
Much has been made of Thistle’s faults up front in recent weeks. Kris Doolan – who you must criticise at your peril around any Jags fan – has been largely ineffective for far too long while John Baird excels at… well, running around if little else. The forward situation had become a massive question, but Kallum Higginbotham, ubiquitos in the Glasgow press this week, came in and gave glimpses of an answer.
Fast, composed, combative, he was a thorn in the visiting defence all day, and his movement and vision routinely opened up space behind the Killie defence for Doolan to exploit. Doolan himself looked far less toothless than he has done in recent games showing himself to be more than a match strength-wise for opponent defenders. The slight forward had the ball in the net after just four minutes, wriggling away from his marker to poke past goalkeeper Craig Samson, but the referee had already stopped play for a handball.
The game was an open one, space in abundance on the Firhill pitch and there should’ve been more of it exploited by Thistle’s marauding full backs. The occasions when Stephen O’Donnell and Aaron Taylor-Sinclair did fly forward, the Kilmarnock defence fell into a shambles. But it was the five-minutes-too-late-tackle that defined the game in the end; a trend started by Manuel Pascali when he gave away a penalty just eleven minutes past three.
Aaron Muirhead duly delivered the goods and all of a sudden Thistle looked good for another three or four. As well as Higginbotham both Taylor-Sinclair and Stevie Lawless looked their usual impressive selves but the creative pinnacle of the first half came from Isaac Osbourne. The imposing midfielder deftly headed, first time, a Killie clearance about twenty yards ahead of him into the feet of Doolan, who roared a shot towards goal and was unlucky not to see the net bulge.
It wouldn’t be till the half hour mark that Kilmarnock would have a chance. And when they did, they looked just as surprised as the supporters. A ball fizzing across the area; a Michael Gardyne who should’ve done a lot better with it.
The second half approached and Thistle fans were relishing the prospect of tearing into their opponents and making up for last week in style.
Cue Kris Boyd – loathed and despised in these parts – materialising in the area to put Kilmarnock level. His first half performance barely warranted a mention, spending it as he did taking abuse from the crowd, dishing it out to bemused substitutes and moving around very little. Was he, as someone else suggested, labouring alone up front? Meh. The word lumbering would be more appropriate.
Yet there he was, by chance rather than design, drawing Kilmarnock level with a swift flick of his head. Big smiles. Vs flicked to the home supporters. Job done.
From there the game became stretched, scrappy but – for an all too brief spell – scintillating.
Scott Fox was producing some of the finest saves this side of Milan, denying Glandyne several times and a rejuvenated Boyd several more. Kilmarnock peppered the Jags’ penalty box with crosses, their hulking forward bounding after them with terrier like enthusiasm. Firhill scratched their heads. Killie weren’t supposed to be this good.
Up front Thistle had lost their teeth once more. The spark had been doused and Doolan had regressed to being unable to even connect with anything and then… Boyd happened again.
In the corner of the pitch he blindsided Taylor-Sinclair, sweeping him off his legs in an abomination of a challenge.
When the subsequent vitriol passed the tackle looked to have done Taylor-Sinclair some good. He hauled Thistle forward with him, laying a pass into Christy Elliot, who hit the post with the shot.
And that was that. Archibald after the game said he was ‘delighted’ with the draw. He has a point: the forwards look like they’ve improved and settled into some sort of a rhythm. Their still playing the passing game from last season and defensively there are few concerns.
In truth Thistle might’ve put it to bed earlier but Kilmarnock were a lot better than their form and warring boardroom might suggest.
Most importantly for the fans though is that Thistle are still very much afloat in the Premiership. But if the pattering on my window now means anything, it’s that the long winter months are on their way, and with them rain that could make Thistle very wet indeed.