Partick Thistle v Livingston 23rd March 2013

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It wasn’t quite Phil Collins at Live Aid in ’85 with two gigs back to back, but a quick freshen up and we were on our way from Glasgow’s South Side to the North of the city. The days second game was for a thrill at Firhill as Partick Thistle took on Livingston in Division One’s game of the day and it did not disappoint.

Only twenty four hours previously, Thistle announced that Alan Archibald had been given the Managers post on a permanent basis which was a decision that had the unanimous backing of the ‘Jags’ supporters. The team have been unbeaten since “Archie” took over the reins when Jackie McNamara departed for Dundee United earlier last month so it was an almost inevitable appointment.

Again, I used to work in this area and my in-laws live here so it’s a venue I am very familiar with and have seen a few games here over the years. I pass the ground often but think the last time I was here for an actual game was in 2007. I took my eldest lad to all three of Thistle’s pre-season games against Ayr United, Falkirk and Leicester City which were all played a few days apart.

The club have had their ups and downs over the last decade but have been on a more stable financial footing over the last six or seven years. They have had the added income of local Rugby being played at Firhill up until last summer and some decent sponsorship deals with Puma, Ignis, Macb and Greaves Sports.

We have not seen Thistle play so far this season but have taken in two of Livingston’s games, away at Hamilton last October then two months later when they were at home to Dunfermline. On both occasions they won and have been quite impressive, but not so in this game! They were missing two key players in Stefan Scougall and Jesus Garcia Tena but I’m not sure if even they could have prevented what turned out to be a proverbial ‘hiding’!

Thistle are in great form and proved to be far superior to their opponents. They were pretty much at full strength and have a young, enthusiastic and skilful side that have a great chance to be playing Premier League football next season.

When the game got underway both sides had a bit of possession but it was Thistle who struck first with the first clear chance of the game on five minutes. A close range shot by Steven Craig was palmed away by Andy McNeill for a corner and that should have proved to be an inspirational moment for the goalkeeper. Instead it proved to be the start of a horrible afternoon for the Livi man and that’s without mentioning the bizarre looking pony tail he was sporting!

Outwith a direct Steven Craig free kick, there were no real goal scoring opportunities until Thistle caught a lucky break on eighteen minutes. An attempted shot by the lively Steven Lawless from the edge of the box caught defender Paul Watson on the arm and referee, George Salmond awarded a penalty. It was a harsh decision as Watson had turned his back on the shot but Aaron Muirhead stepped up and drilled his shot straight down the middle to give the hosts the lead.

Three minutes later Thistle doubled their advantage. A corner on the right hand side from James Craigen evaded everyone and the ball was picked up on the far side by Sean Welsh. He lofted it back in and found the unmarked Steven Craig in the six yard box and he headed home past McNeill who went down to it in installments!

As we were near the stewards and Police cordon separating both sets of supporters, the early goading got too much for two fans, one from each side and there was a comical stand off between them! Guys in their forties still wanting to fight, good god!

Back on the park the Livingston players body language was of a team that knew they were beaten, yet it wasn’t over by a long shot. Ten minutes from the break Partick Thistle got their third and you had to blink to double check and confirm if what you saw, did actually happen! Lawless played a pass to James Craigen who went on a run and hit a decent shot from twenty yards out. It bounced in front of McNeill and into the net but it was like there was no goalkeeper between the sticks!

Three minutes before the break the game was as good as over when Thistle grabbed their fourth of the afternoon. From a Livingston free kick in a dangerous position it was cleared up to the half way line and was picked up by the highly impressive Chris Erskine who tried play in Steven Craig. As he would’ve been flagged for offside had he touched the ball, he cleverly left it, Erskine continued his run and collected before playing in Lawless. The diminutive attacker side stepped two challenges before casually lifting the ball over McNeill to make it 4-0. A really well worked goal and was reminisce of Gio Kinkladze’s goal of the season in the Premiership some years ago. He may have to work on his goal celebration though, poor effort!

The hosts were forced into a change at the interval with Kris Doolan replacing Steven Craig in attack.

One minute after the restart Livingston pulled a goal back. A free kick was floated into the box, it was headed into the path of Paul Watson who volleyed high past Scott Fox from six yards and make it 4-1. It didn’t inspire any kind of fight back from the visitors and Thistle continued to dominate proceedings.

Just before the hour the Jags made it five and quite possibly one of the best goals i’ve seen this season. It was a case of possession football as some patient play gradually found the home side sweeping up the park. A nice chipped cross was held up by Doolan who nodded into the path of Erskine, they then played a one-two with each other and Erskine calmly slotted a low left foot shot out of the reach of McNeill in goals. There was at least twelve passes made in the build up and if this was a more high profile league people would be raving about the quality of this goal.

Five minutes later a Livi move down the left resulted in a ball into the box which was controlled by substitute, Danny Mullen. He had the space to turn and get a shot in that clipped the corner of the bar. Thistle then had a chance to add to their tally when a corner on the right found its way out to Lawless who fired in a twenty five yard shot that dipped just over the bar.

With twenty minutes left the hosts added a sixth goal and again it was stunning. Aaron Sinclair was allowed to charge a good twenty yards up the park unchallenged before lifting a neat cross into the six yard box. It found Kris Doolan who controlled the ball on his chest and as it dropped he volleyed into the net all in the one move.

The game was long over as a contest, Thistle kept the ball while Livi wished the clock would quickly hit ninety minutes. There were no real chances of note thereafter, it finished 6-1 and a valuable three points were collected. Elsewhere, Morton came back from two goals down to win 4-2 at home to Cowdenbeath ensuring the Division One title race will go right to the wire.

This was a great advert for the Scottish Football League and the 2,897 fans in attendance were thoroughly entertained. Partick Thistle seem to have all the right ingredients in their side to be successful with a mixture of ability, height, youth, experience and a will to win. All the players played their part in this result but thought Erskine and Lawless were exceptional at times and the club will do well to hold onto them in the summer.

I’ve always enjoyed coming to watch football at Firhill. The club have an intriguing history and have unfortunately lived a lot of it in the shadows of other teams in the city. The stadium is quite accessible and is next to two main roads leading into the city centre and you are also only a ten minute walk from the Underground at St.George’s Cross.

Street parking is available near the ground with several streets on either side of Maryhill Road giving you only a short distance to cover walking to and from the stadium. For this game we parked up on the hill just off Murano Street giving us not even a five minute walk down to the turnstiles.

The main stand at Firhill is quite traditional and distinctive, which can be seen from some distance. It is used on occasion and am unsure if there is an issue with it meeting certain SFL criteria. Opposite is the Jackie Husband Stand which was built twenty years ago and is predominantly used by the home supporters.

In the last decade new flats and a new stand were built behind the goal to the north of the stadium, both of which are very modern in appearance. Opposite this there was an open terrace which was not used for some time and was later cleared in anticipation for something similar to that of the north side.

I have a couple of friends who work just down the road in the local Housing Association who suggested that the club may have had an issue with council’s  Planning Department over certain permissions. It has lay vacant as a grass embankment now for possibly six or seven years and am unsure what the future holds for this part of the ground.

There is a good community feel about Firhill and the club in general. The staff are welcoming and friendly and the club have done a lot of work locally to encourage families along to the games. The club’s decision to let kids under the age of sixteen into the ground for free a few years back is a great incentive to the next generation of fans, while making it affordable at the same time.

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