Partick Thistle - Craig (74)
Firhill manager Jackie McNamara may have reached the heights of a Uefa Cup final with Celtic in his playing days and it looks like next April’s clash with Queen of the South means just as much as the Seville encounter with Porto.
McNamara said: “I was ‘minus two’ years old when Thistle were last in a final so that shows you how long ago it was. It was a great day for the players and for our fans who have waited a long time for this and hopefully we can go on and win it now.
“This is a tough venue and I emphasised that to the players and it took us about 40 minutes to pass the ball and graft for chances. We would have liked to have got a second goal to ease the nerves but I have to be thankful to our defence who were great at the end.”
The noisy travelling Thistle support certainly appreciated the significance of the occasion by packing the south enclosure at Central Park. However, they had to be patient for their favourites to shine in an opening period which was spoiled by nerves that resulted in fairly scrappy play on a tight and greasy pitch.
After surviving a number of dangerous set-pieces and a Greg Stewart shot, the visitors began to assert themselves on Colin Cameron’s side with Stuart Bannigan having a hopeful swipe from halfway which had to be carefully watched by home goalkeeper Thomas Flynn. The shot-stopper was in more serious action again on 15 minutes, making a superb double save as he parried away Sean Welsh’s effort from 25-yards before making blocking Chris Erskine’s rebound from close-range.
The home side were missing the calming influence of suspended John Armstrong in defence and Flynn had to come to the rescue again by blocking a Stephen O’Donnell cross at the front post after 19 minutes.
The game got bogged down again before Thistle impressed before the break by assembling a move of more than a dozen passes which yielded a corner, from which they claimed a handball infringement that referee John McKendrick did not acknowledge.
The home defence were exposed again on 37 minutes when Welsh was allowed a free-header from six yards which he could only aim straight at Flynn following a Ross Forbes free-kick. However, the Blue Brazil almost surprised their visitors by taking the lead seconds before the break as Marc McKenzie was given the freedom of Fife to shoot from 25-yards, however Scott Fox was alert to finger-tip the ball away.
Cowdenbeath started the second half strongly and a dangerous Scott Linton long-throw resulted in Ruben Garcia blasting a deflected volley over the bar. From the subsequent corner, Fox made a flying save to tip over a Kenny Adamson header as Thistle felt significant pressure for the first time in the game.
McNamara’s men were struggling to deal with home winger McKenzie and it was his clever play which enabled Stewart to fire in a drive that was deflected straight at Fox.
However, the addition of on-loan Celtic player Paul Slane to the action with half an hour left was designed to inject more pace into the proceedings and it worked with Thistle looking ever more dangerous.