Ross County V Partick Thistle
Irn-Bru Scottish League 1st Division
Saturday 24th April 22, 2010
Victoria Park Dingwal
Reporter: Partickthedog(with assistance from weehonk)
After an entertaining but relatively quiet first half, the northern skies were transformed by a sub-glacial volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull proportions. By the time the dust had settled on a manic second half, Thistle had come back from behind to win 2-1, a new goalkeeping legend had been born and Ian McCall had enjoyed a Nick Clegg-like bounce in his personal popularity ratings.
Which felt longer, the 460 minutes since Thistle last scored a goal or the 330 minutes it took for the combined North West/Jordanhill supporters’ bus to travel from Maryhill Community Halls to Victoria Park, Dingwall? Your commentator has endured every second of both, but at least the latter did not spread over 32 days. Sadly, a fatal road accident on the A9 just north of Perth decreed a magical misery tour of spectacular scenery and snowlined mountain passes to places even the Starship Enterprise has never boldly gone (Monzie would be a great home for a Thistle supporter-Monzie Jags!).
The clock ticked on relentlessly and the schedule was further disrupted by the bus driver’s statutory rest period. No complaints at all about this (he has to stay legal and in a job and it was great to see him enjoying the game), but to have missed a long awaited Thistle goal due to a tachograph would have been the final insult!
The chance to applaud Ross County on to the pitch on their first return home after so wonderfully dumping Celtic out of the Scottish Cup was lost, but after the lightning dash from bus to ticket booth through turnstile to stand seat, it was a relief to discover that the score was still nil-nil.
A quick check of the teams revealed that Bryn Halliwell (who had performed more like Geri Halliwell against Raith Rovers) had been given his promised second opportunity to prove that he can fill the famous boots of Alan Rough, Craig Nelson, Nicky Walker, Kenny Arthur and Jonny Tuffey. Martin Corrigan, after his woeful midweek stint in central midfield, returned to right fullback in place of the injured Paul Paton. Maxi and Robbo brought their experience to the centre of defence, with Ryan (10, 4) Conroy on the left. Can Ian McCall be hoping to sign Conroy as otherwise there seems to be no rational explanation for continuing to play a loan signing when the benched Paddy Boyle was the obvious choice? Ryan had a tidy game, including a stylish nutmeg, but his deadball delivery was invariably shocking. Ross County had no need for a second defender.
Mark Corcoran and Chris Erskine were on the right and left respectively (though with numbers reversed to cause confusion), with Hodge and Rowson in between and Donnelly and Doohan up front. I assume that nothing too world-shattering took place in the first ten minutes. If you believe the BBC (Duke Gekwantala and all), Bryan Hodge hooked a shot wide of the post, but if you believe Tam the Bam, Kris Doolan glanced a header wide and Coco’s deflected shot was saved by McGovern…or maybe it all happened?
The first half I saw was evenly matched, although the swingometer slowly moved from Thistle to County. The route north closely paralleled the controversial power line from Beauly to Denny. If the constructors are short of a few pylons, then they need look no further than Victoria Park. With the exception of Michael Gardyne (MG Midget?), the team are all giants. When the Thistle defence were rushed and had no option but to punt the high ball, then everything was mopped up and returned with interest by Scott Boyd and his cohorts. However when Hodge and Company kept the ball low and passes and runs were well-timed, promising openings could be made.
Doolan found Donnelly on the edge of the box and when he appeared to shoot accurately, the Thistle fans (as so often over the past few weeks) were halfway out of their seats in expectation of the ball nestling in the corner of the net…before it hit the front of the stand behind the goal. Then a defensive header sat up invitingly for David Rowson and his powerful volley was just too close to the keeper.
County’s delivery from corners was always threatening. Barrowman’s header from close range was scrambled off the line by a combination of Halliwell and Robertson, and, in the first sign of what was to come, Bryn recovered magnificently to block Boyd’s intended shot from the rebound. The action flowed to the other end and Sid would surely have scored if he could have got a full contact on a rare effective cross from Coco.
The Ross County playmaker is as sublime as the Gardyne of Eden. Even when he is playing for the opposition, it is an honour to watch, especially at First Division level, a player so clearly at the top of his game. Michael Gardyne has everything, he can run, he can pass, he can shoot, and he has skill in shedloads. As the catalyst who sparks County from solid to spectacular, hopefully he can display this to the whole nation in the forthcoming Scottish Cup Final and it will be interesting to see where his career takes him. However, Halliwell proved equal to his wrist-stinging volley, even earning an admiring handshake from Gardyne.
At halftime Ian McCall took inspiration from Shakespeare and brought on MacBeth. Having looked at the ineffective Mark Corcoran and asked “Is this a winger I see before me?”, the answer was clearly “No”, and therefore it was decided that “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” he would no longer creep down the wing at this petty pace. Ryan MacBeth has a similar stooped bearing and slightly hangdog expression to Lionel Messi. We can only hope that some Argentinian stardust has rubbed off, although in style of play he is more reminiscent of Thistle legend and coach Ian Cameron.
The other major halftime switch was by your commentator, moving from the stand via the pie queue to the terracing, to join the cheerful bunch of young diehards who were calling on all and sundry to give them a wave and were all dreaming of a team of Bryan Hodge (to the tune of Yellow Submarine). If Thistle were going to score, I was going to be right behind the goal to see it.
The intensity of the game cranked up a notch for the second period and for a game which did not count for promotion or relegation issues, it is a credit to both teams that they went all out for victory and served up some cracking entertainment for the fans. I reported on the thrilling 2-2 draw between the teams in October 2009 and I thought I would be quoting the second instalment as a reason why we should not make the same trip twice in one season. Despite the trauma of the everlasting journey, that particular part of my pre-match notes was soon torn up. Can we play you every week?
McGovern the Ross County goalie was christened “Ears” for obvious reasons which anti-discrimination laws probably do not allow me to mention, but his lugs were shortly to resound to the thwack of ball on post as a beautiful move involving Corrigan, Erskine and Donnelly ended with an angled drive from David Rowson. I do not know why Rowser was missing when good luck was handed out, but how one man can find so many ways not to score is baffling. Messi Macbeth then shot over from the industrious Rowser’s pass.
However, the Staggies were turning the screw at the other end and Bryn Halliwell was called increasingly into the action, stopping shots and making one Tuffeyesque dash from his line to clear a ball which had breached the defence and was being pursued by an onrushing attacker. Yet there was nothing he could do when, after the ball was neatly served up to him on the edge of the box, Paul di Giacomo expertly (but uncharacteristically for those who recall his dismal loan spell at Firhill) drove it low into the left corner of the net. Please…not another dominate the game, lose one-nil scenario. Thankfully we had only two minutes to wait.
Erskine had been pushed forward to partner Doolan in a novel front line, with Sid slightly withdrawn. When Big Bird was lassooed in mid-flight, Thistle were awarded a free kick just outside the left corner of the box. Conroy was eager to display his non-existent deadball expertise, but was warned off by the Thistle cognoscenti who knew that this was Simon Donnelly territory. Sid ran up and hit the ball with curl and pace. The sign on top of the stand read “one touch changes everything”, and the slightest deflection turned a decent shot into a beast. In an instant the ball had slammed into the bottom corner, some Thistle fans had their tops off and we were trying to remember what a goal celebration felt like.
From playwrights to poets. Burns was introduced into the action to replace Doolan, whose influence was fading. Halliwell foiled Gardyne, but could do nothing as a thunderous drive from Brittain shook the crossbar. The Thistle fans turned from singing “We want a goal”, to “We want the Greek”, and sure enough they were rewarded as Martin Grehan replaced Hodge.
Big Bird had changed nesting places more often than a migrant osprey and he was now despatched to a midfield role behind Simon Donnelly. Strangely enough he put in a disciplined shift in an unfamiliar position, making clearances from his own penalty box as well as being the Erskine Bridge between defence and attack, feeding low balls down the left, evading the County tree trunks and releasing the pace of young Kieran Burns.
Halliwell saved yet again from Gardyne and also from Miller who had put in a tremendous run from right full back, beating player after player. Then came one of the best worked goals of the season. Kieran ran free down the left, doing well to keep the ball under control and bear down towards the goal from the corner of the box. The options were to shoot or to the cross and many inexperienced players would have been overwhelmed by nerves and achieved neither. Burns slid a perfectly weighted pass to Donnelly just left of the penalty spot and he put the ball like moussaka on a plate for the Greek. Martin did not break stride and leathered the ball high into the top left hand corner.
After that the game became the Bryn Halliwell show. From a vantage point at the far end terracing, it was difficult to pick out who was shooting and exactly what was happening, but time and time again the ball seemed to be arrowing into the net and then the leaping figure of Halliwell would suddenly appear to touch it away. He must have packed in at least half a dozen vital saves, aided and abetted by Robbo and Maxi, who were putting their bodies on the line.
One save stands out above all the others. Wood headed a corner off the post. The ball fell a few yards away from goal and two County strikers converged upon it. It seemed inevitable that one or other would roll it into an empty net, but Halliwell produced an amazing hand movement to flick it away at the last second.
Tommy Taylor, Thistle’s official photographer, caused concern by abandoning his usual post behind the goal to which Thistle were shooting, and moving towards the halfway line. Did he sense that all the meaningful goalmouth action was going to be at the other end? Nevertheless, the traffic was not all one way. Thistle were able to lift the siege and provide a threat of their own. Grehan was winning balls in the air and soaking up a lot of punishment from the County rearguard (Absorbent the Greek?) and Burns was tiring them out with his pace and movement. A delightfully delicate Grehan head flick put Kieran through one on one, but Ears the goalie blocked his shot and then watched Messi put the rebound over.
The otherwise immaculate Scott Boyd (why did we ever let him go?) earned a booking for a violent tackle on Burns. In injury time Donnelly again sent Kieran clear. A deserved goal would do so much for his confidence. Yet again McGovern was equal to the task, not once, but twice, saving the first shot and smothering the rebound.
After a few more heroics from Halliwell, the game ended thankfully with Thistle coolly retaining possession deep in the County half. Halliwell received my “Man of the Match” award as well as the ultimate accolade the terracing faithful could accord to a former Clyde keeper.
“O Brynny, Brynny.
He used to be a Gyppo
But he’s all right now!”
Hopefully Ian McCall did not let him get into the post-match bath before he had signed a contract for next year. Jonny Who?
Thistle (ratings): Halliwell 9, Corrigan 6, Conroy 7, Hodge 7 (Grehan 7), Robertson 7, Maxwell 7, Erskine 7, Rowson 8, Doolan 6 (Burns 7), Donnelly 7, Corcoran 5 (MacBeth 6)
Unused Subs: Hinchcliffe, Boyle
Ross County: McGovern, Miller, Morrison, Scott (Vigurs), Boyd, Keddie, Gardyne, Barrowman (Wood), Di Giacomo, Brittain, Kettlewell (Watt)
Unused Subs: Malin, Smith
Referee- David Somers
Assistants- Gary Cheyne, Michael McNab
Partick Thistle- Donnelly 60, Grehan 74
Ross County- Di Giacomo 58
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