First of all, the opening goal from Kris Doolan should not have stood as the striker latched on to Blair Spittal’s header before firing past Ross Stewart. However, you can almost forgive the assistant referee from missing it as the ball ricocheted around quickly with a St Mirren defender moving back towards Doolan. Although neither Jack Ross or the St Mirren fans will, understandably, accept that.
But after an even opening period, Partick Thistle stepped on the gas and were a thrilling watch in the first half. The attacking trio of Spittal, Chris Erskine and Steven Lawless, behind Doolan, appeared to be playing their own game for large parts, not allowing anyone else to get involved, especially players dressed in black and white.
Lawless played from the left, Spittal from the right, with Erksine rampaging through the middle. But it seemed that all wanted to play as a number 10, and instead of getting in each other’s road, they were playing on the same wavelength, as if conjoined by a telepathic force. There was an understanding, an assumption, an expectation of what should happen, what was going to happen, and what happened.
They did in fact have a supporting cast, especially full-backs Christie Elliott and Callum Booth who allowed the wide forwards to play in-field.
For most of the first half every time the Three Musketeers swept forward they looked like slicing St Mirren in two and finding the back of the net. It was swift, direct, slick and downright brilliant football. Erksine can have his moments but playing through the middle appeared to galvanise him. His performance was summed up by a sublime assist on the counter-attack in the second half.
The 26-year-old deserves his own acclaim. Doolan scored to suggest it is going to be another double-figure season; Erskine was resplendent in the middle of a attacking trident; Spittal was excellent playing from the right; hinting at a new lease of life; but it was Lawless who emerged as the game’s key player.
He combined excellently with Doolan, Erskine and Spittal, as well as Booth who he found more than once without even looking. There was a real relationship with team-mates which isn’t surprising considering so many of these players have been part of the team for so long.
Usually Lawless is stationed on the right whereby he can drift on to his left foot, or through the middle. However, against St Mirren he popped up on the right, playing narrow and finding the half-spaces in front of the Buddies defence. Despite a five-man midfield with Stephen McGinn in the holding role, too often St Mirren players were like firefighters turning up to the wrong fire.
Lawless was the man on fire, brilliantly taking his first goal before scoring the goal of the game, a sweeping move which was swept in from the edge of the box.
St Mirren pay too much respect
Blair Spittal’s free-kick swung over the wall, past Ross Stewart and before it had even hit the back of the net, a handful of St Mirren fans had seen enough and were already making their way to the exit.
Such was Thistle’s dominance, such was the Buddies incompetence, they knew, just as everyone left in the ground knew, the game was over. Coming into the game the match was seen as an exciting one. Upwardly St Mirren against a good Thistle side who will still be looking to add to the squad.
Yet, Ross’ men treated Thistle as if Alan Archibald’s side were unbeaten domestic champions and St Mirren were League One also-rans.
The performance was night and day to the one which the club put in at Celtic Park in the Scottish Cup last season. Following a smart, tactically-savvy, dogged display at the then Champions-in-waiting, Brendan Rodgers, somewhat cheekily, insisted that the Paisley outfit were the best his Celtic side had faced. St Mirren took heart from that as they rescued themselves from a perilous position to remain in the second tier.
At Firhill, the Buddies were the antithesis of the team which stepped out at Celtic Park. Ross made changes but he would have been appalled at how his charges carried out his pre-match instructions. They were run ragged, failing to get near a Thistle player.
The home side’s front four were exemplary but they were allowed to be. Thistle’s third goal summed up St Mirren’s afternoon as the Jags played their way up the pitch and through St Mirren’s defence, each player in yellow and red not being pressured at all.
Forty five minutes against Heart of Midlothian on 5 March 2016. The last time Stuart Bannigan kicked a ball in competitive action until he played 90 minutes in Thistle’s Betfred Cup opener against Livingston. Two days shy of 500 passed between the two games.
Few things in football are more frustrating and disheartening for a player than a lengthy absence through injury. While team-mates are out on the pitch, you are stuck indoors, in the gym, only the physiotherapist for company, perhaps a sports scientist but mostly you and your thoughts.
Thankfully for Banzo, as he is fondly known at Firhill, Thistle stuck by him, offering him a two-year-deal not long after his injury. Slowly but surely he has been building his way back to full fitness without any setbacks.
He has slotted seamlessly back into the heart of the midfield. St Mirren will likely be the easiest opponents he faces this season, such was their ineptitude, but he provided a solid base alongside Abdul Osman to allow an attacking trio to run riot behind Kris Doolan.
He picked up a yellow card for blocking but it was the only blot on his copybook. Cliché aside, he will be like a new signing having missed so much football. He is a technically-excellent, as well as combative, midfielder who can play in a variety of positions. Ninety minutes followed by 83 minutes will have done him the world of good, both physically and mentally.
As Jack Ross steered St Mirren to safety through choppy waters, an increasing number of fans, both St Mirren and neutral, lined up to back the Buddies for promotion for the coming season. The momentum, the excitement, it was understandable.
However, after a summer recruitment drive which included the signing of Craig Samson, the club have slipped away from the favourites, with Dundee United, Falkirk and even Inverness Caledonian Thistle all looking stronger. While both Dunfermline Athletic and Livingston have looked impressive in the Betfred Cup so far.
Yet, as teams showed last season, namely Inverness, the Betfred Cup can give a false impression. After the chasing Ross’ men were given at Firhill, fans will be hoping that is very much the case.
There wasn’t little evidence of a title challenge against Partick Thistle. There was not one iota of evidence. With a competitive looking division, the Buddies require a massive improvement in the coming weeks if they are not going to lose ground in the promotion hunt.