THE original match that cried out for a goal, this was a grinder of a goalless game for St Johnstone at any rate. After five successive league defeats, they needed to stop their bad run and did so by virtue of their own solid defence and Thistle’s inability to create surefire chances.
“With recent results I am more than pleased with the performance and the point,” said St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright. “It’s a start and we’ve got to build on it.”
He will want to do that before Tuesday when St Johnstone travel to Ibrox to meet Rangers in the Scottish League Cup quarter final – “the pressure’s all on Rangers and hopefully we’ll go there and put up another performance,” said Wright.
Thistle gave an immediate debut to short-term signing Frederic Frans and the big Belgian centre back strolled through the match, his performance being the highlight of a grey day. On this showing, a longer contract past January is a must for “Ferdinand”, as one Thistle music fan named him.
“It was a great debut,” said Jags manager Alan Archibald. “He’s very composed on the ball. He’s a big lad and a bit cumbersome, but he doesn’t hit long balls and I’m delighted with him.”
The player himself enjoyed the new experience after 20 years with Lierse in Belgium that he joined as a five-year-old: “I told my agent John Viola that I wanted to go abroad. I had a trial with Leeds but I’m happy to be here because this is the Premiership.
“I like to play football on the ground, to get the ball at my feet and not lose it. The manager said, ‘Play your game’ and with the pace of Scottish football it’s sometimes good to just keep the ball.”
A potential new star at Firhill, then, but Thistle did miss the injured Kallum Higginbotham who would surely have provided the cutting edge which was all that Thistle were really missing in a dominant performance.
A frankly underwhelming match featured a plethora of directionless passes and neither side nor their fans will wish to recall this non-event in a hurry. The players were not helped by the heavy rain shower that saw surface water lie in one corner of the pitch, while the strong wind mitigated against
skilful play throughout.
Still, professionals should adapt to conditions whatever they are and all credit to Thistle in particular for trying to play good football against the parked bus from Perth.
Funnily enough it was St Johnstone who had the first chance in the opening seconds, Brian Graham shooting into the side netting.
Steven Lawless and Stephen O’Donnell combined to set James Craigen clear for Thistle’s first chance, but he shot straight at goalkeeper Alan Mannus.
On 27 minutes, Lawless again cut through the visitors’ defence, and his cross was completely mishit by Kris Doolan, with Craigen’s follow up superbly blocked by Steven Anderson.
Doolan was inches away from scoring just a few minutes later, injuring himself as he lunged at, and missed, a Craigen cross.
St Johnstone had their fair share of possession, it must be said, and the best chance of the match fell to Lee Croft, who was clean through on goal, only for Scott Fox to make a textbook spread-eagling save.
The second half almost began with a bang for Thistle, Christie Elliott beating several opponents in a mazy run before he smacked the ball high and wide. St Johnstone promptly won a corner, only for O’Donnell to collect and run fully 80 yards to win a corner at the other end – no one could doubt the players’ commitment, that was for sure.
Thistle could make nothing of that opportunity and even when Elliott quite brilliantly despatched the ball past Mannus shortly afterwards, referee Murray had already blown for an infringement.
Still trying to play their passing game, Thistle pinned St Johnstone back for long periods, but they were simply unable to craft decent chances.
James McFadden had a quiet game, and was substituted in the 71st minute shortly after fluffing his best chance by shooting straight at Fox. Michael O’Halloran replaced the former Scotland international, while Nathan Eccleston came on for home captain Doolan.
None of the substitutions improved matters for either side, and with St Johnstone seeming content to take the point, it was left to Thistle to press for the winner.
They were caught out right on the final whistle, however, when O’Halloran burst clear on the right, Jordan McMillan taking the yellow card for the team by felling him. Murray Davidson got down low to head Simon Lappin’s free kick goalwards and only Fox’s reaction kept the scoresheet blank.