THERE are comebacks and then there are comebacks. This was both. Premiership shock troops Hamilton were a goal down with just three minutes to play but managed not just to salvage a point but to plunder all three.
Partick Thistle - 1
Hamilton Academical - 2
Andreu 87; Scotland 90
Victory, their third in succession, sees Accies sail into uncharted waters. They now proudly sit in second place in the Premiership table and their supporters were as delighted as they were stunned at the end, taunting their rivals by chanting “1-0 and you messed it up”. Except they didn’t use the word “messed”.
Thistle will feel aggrieved but any team which defends as poorly as they did can have few complaints.
Accies’ player/manager, Alex Neil, elected to leave himself on the bench, restoring the more attack-minded Louis Longridge to the side.
The switch almost paid immediate dividends. Longridge ought to have given the visitors the lead in the second minute when he latched on to a headed pass from Dougie Imrie to hare in on goal. The winger was left with only Paul Gallacher to beat but, while the goalkeeper did well to turn his shot behind, Aaron Muirhead appeared to shove the striker as he was about to pull the trigger.
Thistle operated without a recognised striker, with former Hearts midfielder Ryan Stevenson utilised as a false No 9.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, they created little in the way of goalmouth incidents during the opening half hour. Hamilton, though, continued to look dangerous. Mackinnon released Mickael Antoine-Curier, who was allowed to race in on goal from a seemingly offside position.
Fortunately for Thistle (and assistant referee Ivan Stankovic), Conrad Balatoni slid in to block the striker’s effort.
Galvanised by that reprieve, the home side created – and spurned – their first opening from Hamilton’s resulting corner.
A classic counter-attack saw Thistle two-on-one at the other end but, while Stephen O’Donnell attempted to square the ball to the unmarked Steven Lawless, he was less than precise with his pass and that allowed Ziggy Gordon to hoof the ball to safety.
Still, at least it provided the Jags with some belief. Dale Keenan’s long ball over the top found Stevenson in space but his shot lacked conviction and Michael McGovern kept it out.
McGovern then held a powerful shot from Kallum Higginbotham at his near post while Gary Fraser was inches away with a low angled drive as the match belatedly sparked into life.
Having ended the first half in control of proceedings, Thistle continued to dominate after the restart and Hamilton were once again indebted to McGovern as the Irishman got his fingertips to a low Lawless drive at the expense of a corner.
Grant Gillespie then took one for the team by willingly accepting a yellow card for a cynical foul on Lawless on the edge of the penalty area.
Thistle manager Alan Archibald finally introduced Kris Doolan, their leading goalscorer last season, midway through the second half in an attempt to provide the cutting edge which had been lacking, but his arrival coincided with the home side running out of ideas, although Hamilton were not offering much in return.
One mazy run from Crawford in the 78th minute ended with a simple save for Gallacher. Jesus Garcia Tena was also deservedly cautioned for a professional foul on Doolan as Accies seemingly contented themselves with running down the clock.
However, Crawford should have scored in the 82nd minute when he was picked out by Danny Redmond’s low cross but the midfielder placed his shot from 12 yards too close to the goalkeeper.
Higginbotham finally found the net in quite spectacular fashion with just five minutes remaining.
There appeared to be little danger when O’Donnell reached the midfielder with a throw-in 25 yards out, but Higginbotham opened up his body and sent a right-foot volley high past McGovern.
It was a goal fit to win any match. Except that it didn’t. Substitute Tony Andreu lashed home the equaliser after being played in by Danny Redmond, then, right at the death, Jason Scotland placed a shot behind the advancing Gallacher after collecting Crawford’s through ball.