ST MIRREN hadn’t won a top-flight match at Firhill since April, 1980, but they finally broke their duck yesterday with a victory which was mired in controversy.
Scorers: St Mirren - Thompson 16, 90+3; Newton 72
The home fans were frustrated not just by the result but by two crucial decisions by referee John Beaton which had a major influence on the outcome.
First of all he refused to award Thistle a penalty in the 64th minute when Saints captain Jim Goodwin clearly handled a long-range drive from Kallum Higginbotham.
Then, five minutes later, he showed a second yellow and a red, below, to Thistle full-back Stephen O’Donnell for a challenge on John McGinn which was far from malicious. Saints were one goal to the good but under the cosh at that time but, against ten men, their experience showed.
Understandably, Thistle manager Alan Archibald was far from happy with the official’s display.
“The penalty decision was the turning point,” he said. “You could tell by the roar from the crowd that it was a penalty.
“Jim Goodwin moved his arm to the side and blocked the ball going towards the goal – if that isn’t a penalty kick then I don’t know what is.
“The fourth official told me that he hadn’t moved his arm but he’ll be embarrassed if that’s what he thought. He moved it to the side but we didn’t get the decision and that changes games.
“It could have been 1-1 and then we’ve got the momentum to go on and get the winner. But we’re not getting the rub of the green at the moment.”
A slick passing movement from the home side sliced through the Saints defence in the seventh minute, culminating in a Steven Lawless cutback for Kris Doolan, whose shot was deflected off target by Darren McGregor’s goal-saving challenge.
Jason Naismith and O’Donnell both collected cautions for rash challenges but it was the latter who paid the heavier price for his offence.
After John McGinn had been brought down, Kenny McLean’s free-kick from 25 yards was turned behind by Scott Fox who, earlier in the week, had become the first Thistle player to be called up by Scotland since Nicky Walker in 1996.
The respite was brief. Shoddy marking at McLean’s resulting corner saw Steven Thompson left unmarked and he headed firmly home from point-blank range.
Former Hearts goalkeeper Marian Kello played his part with a fine reaction save to keep out a first-time effort on the turn from Doolan.
Thistle came out with all guns blazing after the restart, forcing Saints on to the back foot and enjoying the lion’s share of possession without unduly troubling the visitors.
Manager Archibald took the bold step of replacing the Mexican defender Gabriel Piccolo with midfielder Christie Elliott as they sought that elusive equaliser.
However, their luck was out, denied a stonewall spot-kick and down to ten men. Paul McGowan then played in Conor Newton, who notched his first goal of the season with a composed finish.
Thompson then distorted the scoreline further with an emphatic drive after Isaac Osbourne had slipped attempting to clear a cross from Danny Grainger.
“I couldn’t see the penalty incident but if we were lucky then we earned it,” said Saints manager Danny Lennon. “We’re delighted with the discipline of the players and the way they kept the shape we’d worked on.”
Partick Thistle: Fox, O’Donnell, Balatoni, de la Vega (Elliot 59), Taylor-Sinclair, Osbourne, Bannigan (Muirhead 75), Higginbotham, Craigen, Lawless (Forbes 66), Doolan.
Subs not used: Gallacher, McMillan, Baird, Kerr.
Sent off: O’Donnell (70, second bookable offence)
St Mirren: Kello, Naismith (van Zanten 66), McGregor, McAusland, Kelly, Newton, Goodwin (Harkins 80), McLean, McGinn, McGowan (Grainger 86), Thompson.
Subs not used: Cornell, Caprice, Reilly, Bahoken.
Ref: J Beaton