Thistle finally broke their season-long league home hoodoo with a thoroughly deserved win over Aberdeen. They are now 19 points clear of Hearts with 11 Premiership games to go and, with the Tynecastle club relegated on all but arithmetical terms, what yesterday’s victory really gave Thistle was a huge boost in the battle to avoid the dreaded play-off spot.
SCORERS: Partick - Balatoni 59, Taylor 64, 72; Aberdeen - Rooney 66
They now sit in tenth place, having leapfrogged one point clear of 11th placed St Mirren and are level on points with Ross County, who have a game in hand, and only one behind Kilmarnock. Manager Alan Archibald said afterwards that with the winless home monkey off their collective back, his men could go on a run, “if they believe”.
Thistle did believe yesterday, but only in the second half. After a frankly dire and directionless opening 15 minutes, the match exploded into controversial life when Niall McGinn sent a delicious defence splitter of a pass into Adam Rooney’s path inside the home box. Paul Gallacher raced from goal and referee Alan Muir adjudged him to have felled Rooney, Gallacher being yellow carded for his pains.
Barry Robson took the kick but it was superbly saved by Gallacher who then just got enough of a touch on Rooney’s shot off the rebound to send the ball wide.
It then became a midfield battle, and Aberdeen were lacking their fluidity of late as Thistle pressured them on every occasion. The visitors, too, were playing a risky game of trying to catch Thistle with the offside trap.
On several occasions, all 20 outfield players were in the segment 20 yards either side of the halfway line.
Rooney thought he had another penalty when Gallacher felled him going for a cross, and the goalkeeper again denied Rooney when he instinctively saved the striker’s goalbound header off a pinpoint Joe Shaughnessy cross.
Lyle Taylor showed the threat he possessed just before half-time when he sprang the offside trap and hared in on goal only to send his shot just wide.
Aberdeen did their strange mini warm-up just before the whistle to start the second period. It’s supposed to gee them up and it seemed to work as they tore into attack, a Hayes cross to the back post seeing Shaughnessy outleap the defence but head narrowly past from close range.
Thistle were growing in confidence, however, and January signing Prince Buaben was first to have a go, his effort from distance going straight to Langfield. That gave the Aberdeen goalkeeper a sighter which he needed as first Buaben and then Higginbotham fired in fierce shots which Langfield saved, either side of referee Muir turning down a strong penalty claim when he judged that the ball had accidentally struck Mark Reynolds’ arm.
Thistle’s goal after 58 minutes was therefore entirely in keeping with the run of play at the time. Conrad Balatoni was up in attack and, when the Aberdeen defence could only clear to the edge of the area, Balatoni hooked a lovely shot past Langfield.Thistle’s second after 65 minutes was a peach. With Aberdeen up the field looking for the equaliser – “we paid for our desperation to score” manager Derek McInnes said – four Thistle players broke away against three defenders. Aaron Taylor-Sinclair flew down the left wing and sent in a cross which Reynolds could only knock away to Kallum Higginbotham. He took his time, picked his spot and stabbed in a low cross which Taylor side-footed past Langfield from about eight yards.
The home fans hardly had time to celebrate before Aberdeen pulled one back within two minutes, McGinn’s accurate free kick leading to Rooney’s close range header as the Thistle defence froze.
If Taylor’s first had been excellent due to the teamwork leading up to it, his second and Thistle’s third goal was all down to his individual brilliance, the striker collecting a through ball on the run, beating Russell Anderson all ends up and smacking the ball into the net.
Taylor should have had his hat-trick two minutes later when Taylor-Sinclair skinned Shaughnessy and crossed to Taylor who mistimed his shot completely, the ball sailing over the bar when a goal seemed inevitable. And when Aberdeen got in a fankle shortly afterwards and the ball broke to Taylor, this time he was foiled only by an outstanding save from Langfield.
To their credit, Aberdeen kept battling away and the final five minutes saw Rooney head substitute Nicky Low’s corner just wide off a Thistle body before Gallacher parried away a ferocious shot by Hayes. Thistle held on comfortably for the win, however, and indeed any other result would have been a travesty of justice.