THIS bottom-of-the-table match did not go according to the script. After Dundee United sacked Jackie McNamara and his players came out with time-honoured blabberings about how it was all their fault, they were meant to roar back with a win.
They were supposed to do it for McNamara, for interim boss Dave Bowman or just for themselves, to patch up crumbling reputations – but this didn’t happen and instead Partick Thistle deservedly recorded their first victory of the season, pushing the Tangerines into the 12th spot.
Before kick-off, Thistle seemed to be seeking consolation where they could find it, with a revised league table in the journalists’ stats-pack showing them in sixth place if all the efforts striking the woodwork this season had counted. And the stadium announcer, anxious for some good news to impart, mentioned three times that right-back Mustapha Dumbuya had been called up by Sierra Leone.
But there was no need for the Jags to feel sorry for themselves. Yes, they struck the crossbar again but they also scored three. And Dumbuya, who netted the second, was an especially buccaneering man of the match.
A relieved Alan Archibald, the Thistle manager, said afterwards: “We needed that. I thought it was a good performance, similar to others this season when we haven’t got the reward, and when we hit the bar again you doubt yourself because we’ve been unlucky with the woodwork.”
Bowman was highly critical of United, calling them a soft touch. “We’re weak,” he said. “Whenever the ball dropped, 99 times out of 100, they picked it up. We’re good when things are going right but you need drive and belief.”
What a contrast this match provided with last time the Arabs came to Firhill. Back in January, they had title aspirations. They’d just beaten Celtic and hammered Dundee 6-2 but in a sense that game was the beginning of the end. McNamara sought consistency and another win, but was lucky to get away with a 2-2 draw, and Celtic were already circling and eyeing up their top talent, including their scorers that raw afternoon, Gary Mackay-Steven and Nadir Ciftci.
Well, United began this, the first game of the rest of their lives, in tentative fashion, with a timid effort from Ryan Dow the sum total of their early endeavours. Bowman, five minutes after sending out his first selection, then had to make his first change, Coll Donaldson replacing the injured Callum Morris. And while the backline was re-adjusting, Thistle scored. Stuart Bannigan, who combined well with Abdul Osman in centre-midfield throughout, began the attack which sprung Callum Booth on the left-hand side of the box. His cross was deflected and David Amoo was muscle-packed enough to stand his ground right on the line and head home.
Dow had a better effort, forcing a full-length save from Tomas Cerny and then a Sean Welsh free-kick demanded the same agility of Luis Zwick. From the resultant corner Daniel Seaborne headed against the bar and then a thundercrack from Scott Fraser almost split the post.
But anyone who expected United to assert themselves in the second half, possibly on the back of some of those tough words from Bowman, would have been disappointed. Thistle took complete control and increased their lead when Dumbuya, adventurous all afternoon, squirted over a cross with Zwick seemingly distracted by players in front of him.
Bannigan got the third, falling as he shot after a cross by Mathias Pogba. The elder brother of Juventus and France’s Paul, the burly striker with half a head of hair was a wholehearted contributor. On this evidence it was difficult to see how Thistle had contrived such a poor start to the campaign, but very easy to understand United’s plight. They were a sorry lot, never testing Cerny again.
Bowman added: “Four people have lost their jobs this week with that squad. Whoever comes in to manage them will have good players but they have to take more responsibility. I hear it from other clubs: play United for an hour and then you find they’re a soft touch. The harsh reality is I agree with them.”