Referee: Crawford Allan
Twenty fours hours ago and after a difficult trip to Inverness you may have been thinking that a draw against the league leaders would not be too bad, but at 4.45 the 2,700 Thistle fans traipsing down the South Drive were in no doubt that this was two points lost rather than one gained in a day that saw parity between the three teams at the top of the table and the Ross County drive keep on going. St Johnstone still look like the team most likely to go up on the basis of their recent unbeaten run but a real logjam is developing from second through to sixth.
Thistle were missing Liam Buchanan and John Robertson through injury and new boy Kris Doolan came in from the start alongside Donnelly. Willie Kinniburgh filled Robertson’s berth whilst the midfield lined up as before with Paton and Twaddle wide and Rowson, Harkins and Chaplain through the middle.
The wind was funnelling up Firhill Road as Thistle kicked off with it in their faces playing towards the city end, but the Saints were first to show in six minutes with a snap shot from Craig that fizzed past. Sheerin came closer in 10 when he floated in a great shot that Tuffey tipped over, following neat interplay on the edge of the box. The Jags had their fair share of the ball at this stage and a good break from midfield by Rowson came to nought.
Derek Holmes was causing problems for the Thistle back three with his height and physical presence and the conditions also played their part with the swirling wind making headed clearances blow back towards the wrong end of the pitch. Thistle found temporary respite in the guise of the walking enigma Gary Harkins as he strolled through two tackles but held the ball too long to allow a blocking tackle that eventually rolled off his leg for a goal kick. Soon after, Paton was fed on the burst by Rowson and he delivered a zipping low ball into the front post that Main dealt with well.
This action was set against a backdrop of pacy midfield play by St Johnstone keeping Thistle largely on their heels for much of the first half hour. Using the Alex Totten scoring system, the Saints were well ahead on corners and had a raft of half chances including a Morris free kick that floated round the post.
Thistle began to claw themselves back in to the game as the end of the first half approached with Chaplain and Harkins involved in a neat one two only to see the ball nicked off the wee fella as he made progress into the box. Donnelly should however have put the Jags in front with the best chance of the half on 37 when he blasted high over after a knock down by Harkins ten yards out.
Thistle came out of the traps at the start of the second half with Saints’ Irvine having to head just over on 46 and this was followed by a neat counter attack involving Paton and Harkins that resulted in a corner, one of a string that Thistle won at this stage of the game, the most notable ending in a header by Donnelly straight at Main. Thistle were in command at this stage with Rowson bossing the midfield and Paton taking up useful positions on the right, exploiting the space left by the usual leftward leanings of the centre mid trio.
One of the best half chances came with a surge by Twaddle into the box at the byline, but the cut back to Donnelly lacked precision and the Saints cleared, but the move of the game came on 75 minutes with neat interplay between subs McKeown and McKinlay leaving Paton free to deliver with time on the ball. The youngster chose to float the ball over rather than hammering it in towards the six yard box and it went well over the heads of the advancing attack.
There was no sign of either team settling for a draw and as St Johnstone pressed forward after clawing their way back into the game, the Jags could have had all three points on the counter. Rowson charged up the right and picked out Donnelly with a pinpoint pass at the left side of the box. As Main committed himself, Donnelly dragged the ball round the last man and curled it towards goal, only to see Gary Irvine pop up on the line to head clear, one of several timely interventions over the course of the game.
As the game drew to a close, my tentative man of the match musings, Paton? Storey? Rowson? were interrupted by the one footed youngster ruining his chances with an almost suicidal backpass when a left peg clearance would have suited better, but Tuffey and Storey combined to clear the danger.
An almost total re run of the Dundee game before Christmas, the game was entertaining and enjoyable in parts, but ultimately unsatisfying. Just like a visit to a sushi bar where you pay for six plates and still feel hungry, this could have been our shot at glory, but instead we have to content ourselves with an empty feeling that this season could have been a whole lot more than it will turn out to be.
And what about new boy Doolan? He was subbed late in the game for McKinlay after putting in a shift and showing that he could take up good positions and create space, but he lacked a bit of composure and needs time to settle. My MoM is David Rowson who is at last beginning to find last season’s form with his confident runs and intelligent reading of the game today.
PARTICK THISTLE: Tuffey, Paton, Twaddle, Storey, Kinniburgh, Archibald, Chaplain (McKeown), Rowson, Doolan (McKinlay), Donnelly (Roberts), Harkins.
Subs not used: Little, Hinchcliffe
ST JOHNSTONE: Main, Irvine, Hanlon, Rutkiewicz, McCaffrey, Swankie (Millar), Craig (Moon), Holmes, Jackson (Samuel), Sheerin.
Subs not used: Anderson, McLean