PARTICK THISTLE 0-0 DUNDEE UNITED
The football season returned in Scotland on Friday night and it was brought in by an entertaining game between newly promoted Partick Thistle and Dundee United, managed by ex-Jags boss Jackie McNamara.
The big team news came from the United dressing room as McNamara dropped star winger Gary Mackay-Steven to the bench and gave youngster Ryan Gauld his opportunity as well as giving debuts to new signings Nadir Ciftci, Calum Butcher, Andrew Robertson and David Goodwillie. Partick kept the majority of the team that got them up last season in the starting eleven with only the on loan Gary Fraser making his debut from the new signings. There was certainly a great deal of excitement at Firhill and, after the ceremonial First Division championship flag was hoisted, we were ready to go.
As referee Craig Thompson blew his whistle, the atmosphere really got going with a large crowd getting behind both teams throughout and the teams responded. The first few minutes were hectic, the ball moving from end to end without a real chance being created. Partick looked especially up for the game as they set about hassling the United players any time they had the ball.
With the ball, Thistle were playing some nice stuff and forced a series of corners early on. From one they could easily have had a penalty. United new boy Ciftci struggled to stay with Partick left back Aaron Taylor-Sinclair at the corner and pulled his shirt, sending Taylor-Sinclair to the floor. Referee Thompson could easily have given a penalty and Ciftci was a lucky boy to get away with that. Partick pressed on, though, and almost took the lead through a huge stroke of luck.
Bolton loanee Fraser sent a wonderful 50 yard crossfield pass to Taylor-Sinclair whose cross into the area from the left forced a clearance from United captain Sean Dillon. However, the Irishman sent his clearance straight into his centre back partner Butcher and both were relieved when the ball went just wide of the near post. From the resulting corner, Sean Welsh got up highest but couldn’t head home Stuart Bannigan’s delivery.
These close calls seemed to spur on United as they fashioned two great chances. First, right back Keith Watson was allowed to cross from the right and he found Goodwillie in the middle. The returning striker headed powerfully downwards however Partick keeper Scott Fox got down superbly to tip the ball away. And less than a minute later, ex-Partick man Paul Paton stung the fingertips of Fox with a rasping drive from the edge of the area that the keeper had to turn over.
The game began to settle into a pattern as Partick played some lovely stuff in the United half without ever looking overly threatening. And they were almost made to pay 10 minutes before half time. United worked the ball out to Robertson on the left and he sent in a beautiful ball to the back post where Goodwillie was arriving. The striker somehow managed to head the ball straight into the ground and nothing came of the glorious opportunity. And United almost shot themselves in the foot again a couple of minutes later.
More excellent play from Partick led to Steven Lawless sending the ball over to Taylor-Sinclair on the left. The impressive left back sent in a low cross which Butcher could only divert into Dillon who was running towards his own goal. The ball was looping in but luckily for the United centre backs, keeper Radoslaw Cierzniak acrobatically turned it away. It was almost a comical way to end a wonderful first half of football.
As the teams returned to the field for the second half, United boss McNamara decided to introduce the nippy Mackay-Steven for Ciftci to try and liven his side up. It worked almost immediately. The winger began forcing Partick right back Stephen O’Donnell to do more defending and seemed to lift his team mates including Goodwillie who almost opened the scoring.
The Scotland international got the ball on the right and began to come inside and into the box. He turned poor defender Conrad Balatoni inside out before firing just wide of the far post with his left foot. You got the sense that Goodwillie was getting closer and he almost got the first minutes later. Watson sent a long ball down the right for the striker to chase. He got there after out muscling Balatoni and once again came into the box. He got past Balatoni and onto his right side but was stopped by Fox in the Partick goal.
Much like the first half, Partick were very good in possession and were playing some nice stuff but the clear-cut chances were not going their way. On the hour mark, though, Kris Doolan tried to change that. He received the ball on the left corner of the box, cut inside before firing a shot that Cierzniak had to turn behind. And Partick were almost ahead minutes later as Taylor-Sinclair fired a free kick from the edge of the area just over the bar.
At this point the game began to heat up as the crowd got even louder and the tackles began to fly in. Partick substitute Christie Elliot was perhaps lucky to get away with a two footed tackle on Butcher just minutes after coming on but Butcher was nearly not as lucky. As he tried to retain possession in the middle of the park, the defender overran the ball and, as he lunged for it, he went over the top of the ball and caught Forbes. This set off a minor scuffle between players from each side but, when cooler heads prevailed, Fraser and Butcher went into Thompson’s book.
As the game moved into its later stages, tiredness became a factor and chances were becoming more difficult to come by. That changed with the introduction of John Baird for Partick in place of Doolan. Baird offered extra pace up front and he almost got on the scoresheet just after he came on. O’Donnell crossed from the right and Butcher could only ricochet the ball upwards. Baird got above Dillon and headed towards goal but it was tipped over by Cierzniak.
As the game entered the final 10 minutes Partick took control and began to create clearer chances. Lawless sent a pass to the left to an onrushing Taylor-Sinclair – who was having a storming game at left back – who tried to sidefoot the ball in at the near post but only managed to get the side netting. And just a minute later, Partick had another appeal for a penalty.
The ball bounced around the penalty area until Bannigan had a shot blocked. He attempted to go for the loose ball but was denied by a strong challenge from Butcher who went in two footed. Appeals went up from players and fans alike and they certainly had a case. It was a risky tackle from a player who perhaps was lucky to still be on the pitch. Butcher was also involved in stoppage time. Substitute Ross Forbes sent in a lovely ball from the right and a diving Baird just missed it. Replays showed Butcher got the slightest touch to take it away from Baird.
And with that, referee Thompson blew the final whistle on an exciting game. A point was probably the fair result and both managers can be satisfied with this result. For Alan Archibald and Partick, they need to continue like this for the next 37 games of the season if they want to stay up. As for McNamara, his side need a little more composure and creativity to ensure that they can utilise their full potential
Partick Thistle: Fox, O’Donnell, Taylor-Sinclair, Muirhead, Balatoni, Fraser (Forbes 85), Bannigan, Doolan (Baird 73), Lawless, Craigen (Elliot 65)
Subs: Gallacher, Osbourne, Kerr, Mukendi
Yellow: Craigen, Fraser, Welsh
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Watson, Robertson, Paton, Dillon (c), Butcher, Dow (Graham 72), Armstrong, Goodwillie, Ciftci (Mackay-Steven 45), Gauld (Erskine 63)
Subs: Rankin, Gardyne, Souttar, McCallum
Referee: Craig Thompson
Man Of The Match: AARON TAYLOR-SINCLAIR (PARTICK THISTLE)