FOOTBALL can be a head-wrecker sometimes. You only had to take a look at Alan Archibald in the aftermath of this frantic afternoon to know the truth of that.
The Partick Thistle manager has seen his team struggle badly at home from the start of the season; no wins and not nearly enough goals. Four in nine league games to be exact.
Yesterday they scored three at home for the first time in the Premiership this season and still they couldn’t get that maddeningly elusive home victory. “It feels like a defeat,” said Archibald. “It’s hard to take.” Nobody was of a mind to disagree with him.
They were 3-1 ahead and coasting, if only for a minute or two. It seemed like the sight of the winning line freaked them out a bit. That’s what Archibald reckoned. “We scored the third goal and we panicked,” he said. They dropped deeper and deeper, invited Ross County on to them and paid the price. In the last five minutes they had a one man advantage after County had Stuart Kettlewell sent off, but couldn’t repair the damage. Derek Adams had his own gripes about some of his team’s awful defending but Adams was like a ray of sunshine compared to Archibald. In the stalemate, there was no doubting who left here happiest.
This was a game in January that had all the intensity of a relegation denouement on the final day of the season, a mad afternoon; good, bad and ugly. When two teams at the wrong end of the table come together you really don’t know what you’re going to get. The best guess pre-match was caginess and uncertainty and caution. It didn’t exactly work out that way.
Right to the end, when one substitute, Kettlewell, got a straight red card for a wretched lunge on another substitute, Ross Forbes, despite being on the field for about a minute, this was high-octane. It was also a game that had some class finishing, typified by two loan stars who look seriously shrewd pieces of business by their respective managers.
Lyle Taylor was making his home debut yesterday after his loan move from Sheffield United. Last time out, he scored once against Hearts and here he scored twice. The other tourist was Filip Kiss, the Slovakian on loan from Cardiff, making his first appearance for Ross County and playing in his first game for a year. He scored twice as well, the first of the day and the last, two cool finishes that mark him out as a potential coup for Adams.
County took the lead, which was ridiculous because before they did so Thistle had two excellent chances to open the scoring and couldn’t take either of them, Kallum Higginbotham’s lusty blow being brilliantly tipped away by Michael Fraser in the visitors’ goal and, just after, Conrad Balatoni’s point-blank header going over the bar when scoring might have been the easier thing to do.
Archibald’s team were the ones trying to get the ball and play. County were really nowhere to be found in those early minutes until, of course, they scored a goal that rather dropped out of the Glasgow sky so unexpected was it.
The home team’s defence was sluggish, that’s true. When County attacked down the left and squared it for Kiss, Thistle never reacted. Kiss was on the edge of the box and in a piece of ruthlessness that belied everything that had gone before, he rifled his shot low past Scott Fox. A terrific finish from the 23-year-old.
Taylor then got involved. His first owed much to the hard graft of Steven Lawless, a tireless worker up front, and then to Taylor’s own self-confidence. His shot from distance was the effort of a player who’ll try his luck given half a chance and it paid off, Fraser dealing poorly with the ball when it came at him.
His second goal, 11 minutes later, was a beauty, a terrific cross from the left by Aaron Taylor-Sinclair and a thumping header from the striker that fairly flew past into the County net. Taylor has a track record in Scotland, of course. He was at Falkirk last season and scored buckets of goals, 29 in all. His was an impressive performance, but Adams wasn’t exactly in a mood to acknowledge it.
“Our defenders allowed Taylor look a really good player,” he said. “He’s good but he’s not really good. I spoke to my centre-halves at half time and told them that. I could have played against my centre-halves out there.”
Thistle went 3-1 a minute after the restart, Lawless giving them a cushion that should have been enough to see out the day, but they couldn’t do it. Within four minutes they had conceded, Ben Gordon pulling a goal back after a siege on Thistle’s goal and there the nerves began to get the better of them. With 14 minutes left, Richard Brittain put Kiss through for the equaliser. Again the Thistle defending was desperately poor.
Kettlewell came on soon after and then went off again. Thistle set about their visitors but the damage was done and the opportunity lost. Archibald will have had trouble sleeping last night. The wait for some respite carries on and on.
Partick: Fox, O’Donnell, Piccolo, Balatoni, Taylor-Sinclair, Craigen, Muirhead, Higginbotham, Lawless (Doolan, 80) Elliot (Forbes, 75) Taylor. Subs not used: Gallacher, Fraser, McMillan, Baird, Wilson.
Goals: L Taylor 23, 39; S Lawless 47.
Booked: S O’Donnell, A Muirhead, G Piccolo.
Ross County: M Fraser, Gordon, McLean, Boyd, Ikonomou, Brittain, Kiss (Quinn, 90), Tidser (Cooper, 79), Carey, Slew, Glen (Kettlewell, 84).
Subs not used: Brown, Micic, De Leeuw, Luckassen.
Goals: F Kiss 23, 76; B Gordon 50.
Booked: F Kiss
Sent off: S Kettlewell.
Referee: B Madden