FOR victors Kilmarnock, the season high point. A move into ninth place.
SCORERS: Kilmarnock - Johnston 42, Boyd 73; Partick Thistle - Doolan 49
For vanquished visitors Partick Thistle, a new low, the Maryhill club sliding below their hosts to find themselves in the bottom three for the first time since their return to the top flight.
The cheers and chills provided by the afternoon could easily have been reversed, with Kilmarnock penned into their own half throughout the second period. Just about the only occasion they managed to relieve the pressure piled on them by Partick was the moment Kris Boyd stuck out a leg to divert a long-range shot from Jackson Irvine past Thistle keeper Scott Fox.
An instinctive intervention, or an impudent one, depending on your point of view, it was Boyd’s old mucker Craig Samson who Kilmarnock had to thank for the win. He made four cracking saves in a second half that started with Kris Doolan netting in delightful fashion to cancel out a first-half strike from home winger Chris Johnston.
“The chances are that people will talk about our young guys like Chris and Craig Slater but it was the two old boys who stole the show,” said Kilmarnock manager Allan Johnston. “Kris was in the right place at the right time and that’s why he’s overtaken [Henrik] Larsson [as top-flight top scorer since the inception of the SPL]. Craig pulled off two fantastic saves. That’s why he’s in the Scotland squad and we are lucky to have him.”
He might not have settled on the word lucky but Johnston accepted that the better team hadn’t won, lauding the Thistle performance and describing them as “one of the best passing teams in the league”. It was, though, he offered, “nice” to win without playing well since so often this season the opposite had been true. Boyd echoed that sentiment, admitting his team “never got going”, “couldn’t get near Thistle at times” and that the three points were down to Samson.
Thistle boss Alan Archibald offered up an understandably different take. He considered the destination of the three points to be decided by Steven Lawless scooping the ball over the bar when only five yards out with the goal at his mercy and then, ten minutes from time, Karl Higginbotham, following a brilliant move that involved a rapid pass-and-move exchange with John Baird, having his shot saved by Samson. Archibald didn’t even bother to mention the one-handed top-corner block from an exquisite curling free-kick delivered by Ross Forbes in the closing minutes, and the keeper’s follow-up stop at close range from Baird.
“We had two massive chances and they don’t come much easier. We scored with the much harder chance,” said Archibald, the Doolan goal a thing of beauty with a dummy thrown in by Christie Elliott, before Doolan feinted to send Jeroen Tesselaar the wrong way and tuck the ball low into the bottom corner.
“It’s disappointing that Kilmarnock go ahead of us but I’d be more disappointed if we’d been battered and lost, but that’s not the case. We passed the ball about and had a cutting edge. People talk about us not having won in a while [since October] but to go out and play the way we did shows the confidence we have instilled in the players.
“We now have a massive two home games coming up. I would have taken this position before the start of the season and we have not tailed off.”
Johnston hoped that his team’s second win in three games could give his men the opportunity to build, but Boyd wasn’t counting any chickens. “We had a run like this earlier in the season and didn’t build on it,” he said. Of his goal, the seasoned striker said that he didn’t know if the Irvine shot in 70 minutes was going in, “but it ended up in the back of the net anyway.” Boyd also had a leg in the first goal, a cross breaking off him to drop into the path of Johnston, who squeezed a low shot between Scott Fox’s right hand and the far post. “We knew going into the festive period this was the biggest game of the four across the 12 days,” said Boyd. “You don’t want to start that spell with a home defeat. And now we can go to Tynecastle on Thursday knowing we can win.”