Substitute Kris Doolan proved the difference as Partick Thistle beat an unambitious Hamilton 2-0 in the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership.
Both these sides had advanced to the Scottish Cup quarter-finals over the previous week but the economics of the Premiership being what they are, this game was probably of far greater importance to each of them. Thistle were the ones who deservedly prevailed, preserving an unbeaten record against Accies that now stretches to 11 games. In so doing they stepped up their pursuit of a top six finish, while for the visitors the struggle to keep their heads above the drop zone continues.
Despite Thistle holding the upper hand, there have been a preponderance of draws in these meetings, and for 45 minutes yesterday it looked like we were heading for a wholly uninteresting stalemate. However, some astute tactical tweaking and substitutions by the hosts’ Alan Archibald changed the complexion of the game – in particular the introduction of Kris Doolan at half-time was pivotal, the hard- working striker scoring both goals as they made their new- found dominance count.
“It wasn’t a great game of football – we’ve lost games and played better than that,” admitted the Thistle manager. “We’re delighted with the victory though. We changed our shape halfway through the first half, and then brought on Chris Erskine to get the ball into the wide areas and pass it. He and Doolan gave us a major lift.
“There was so much at stake and I think that’s why our performance was so bad at first. It’s a massive three points.”
It was hard to shine a light on an arid first half and to uncover anything worth noting. Thistle were patient enough in their probing, which was to be lauded, but too often there was no end product, with most decent moves expiring with a misplaced pass. The visitors generally sat back and soaked it up, well marshalled by the wise old head of Massimo Donati.
As so often happens in these tightly contested affairs, it was actually the Lanarkshire men who nearly snatched the lead before the interval when, after a rare bit of pressure on the home goal, Danny Redmond glided a header wide of the upright by the finest of margins.
Archibald clearly didn’t fancy another 45 minutes of mundane dreariness and had to be credited for making judicious use of his bench. Doolan replaced David Amoo and shortly afterwards Erskine was brought on for Ade Azeez. There was a readily discernible change in the tide of the game, with Thistle beginning to stretch the previously assured Accies rearguard and drawing some meaty and cynical challenges as a result. Darian MacKinnon clattered Callum Booth and Michael Devlin put in a dubious-looking challenge on Abdul Osman.
More significantly, the pressure was ratcheted up on Gary Woods’ goal, with the keeper making an astonishing save to beat away a Danny Devine header, although Liam Lindsay should have then stuck away the loose ball. Moments later though Thistle did find the back of the net, Erskine getting to the goal-line and floating over a perfectly weighted cross for Doolan to head home.
The onus was on Accies to come up with a Plan B but there was nothing to show. They had hardly made any meaningful headway towards Tomas Cerny’s goal when they fell further behind in near identical fashion to Thistle’s opener. This time it was Booth supplying the cross and there, once again lurking in the six-yard box, was Doolan to bury it. Another share of the spoils was never going to happen after that.
“I thought it was a poor game overall,” sighed Accies manager Martin Canning, “but we’ve been done by two crosses into the box that we didn’t defend.”