The experts had been saying all week that this showdown between the First Division’s top two was too close to call. But just like another major contest on the other side of the Atlantic, the predictions of a tightly fought affair at Firhill proved wide of the mark and from Dunfermline’s point of view, embarrassingly so.
Thistle simply flew out of the traps and inflicted a mighty blow on their fellow promotion challengers with a performance that was as every bit as good to watch as the scoreline suggests. It deservedly hoisted Jackie McNamara’s men back to the top of the table and as this was the second occasion this season that they have got the better of the Fifers the benefits may well extend beyond improving the goal difference on their demoralised rivals.
“We were outstanding” said a delighted, but measured, McNamara afterwards. “I told the players to look at the size of the crowd we had in here today and to show them how good they are. They showed great desire – even at 4-1 they were still trying to get another goal”.
The manner in which Thistle opened the game suggested they meant business and they did not fall short. They got their noses in front after only five minutes as Stephen O’Donnell, who was a persistent threat to the left flank of the Fifers’ defence with his foraging forward bursts, raced into the box and sent in a drive which Steven Lawless diverted home at the far post.
Despite showing such ominous intent, it wouldn’t be Thistle without some kind of blip occurring along the way and sure enough with it all going so swimmingly they contrived to throw a lifeline to a Dunfermline side who had hitherto been barely seen as an attacking force. Following a clumsy challenge by Alan Archibald a free kick from Ryan Wallace was angled across the Partick goal and the sliding Aaron Muirhead was unable to stop himself from edging the ball into his own net.
Credit must go to the positive mindset that McNamara has drilled into his squad as they responded to this setback in mightily impressive fashion with a quick two-goal burst that once again left the Fifers reeling. Conrad Balatoni restored their lead with a ferocious header from a corner on the left and then in a moment of true class O’Donnell once again broke clear and this time beat Gallacher all on his own with a delightful little chip over the diving Pars goalkeeper.
It was fairly breathtaking stuff from Thistle and the visitors must have craved the shrill of the half-time whistle to get some respite. Any composure they regained in the sanctuary of the dressing room didn’t last for long however once the game resumed, despite Jim Jefferies’ attempt to fight fire with fire by introducing a third striker in the shape of Andy Kirk. The outcome was put beyond doubt after 56 minutes when Ross Forbes sent in a screamer that simply flew past Gallacher to make it four for the rampant hosts.
Thistle’s stranglehold was barely tested in the concluding half hour as Dunfermline struggled to bring any pressure to bear and the only discordant note on an otherwise near prefect afternoon for them was the sight of goalkeeper Scott Fox being stretchered off after an awkward fall. There was still time for them to find more to cheer as Lawless notched up their fifth with another fine drive.
“We were second best” was Jefferies’ blunt assessment. “I said beforehand that the team that wanted it most would probably win it and I was right”.