Gatesjead 2 - 1: Gateshead too hot for Thistle

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Partick Thistle stepped up their preparations for a return to Scotland’s top flight with a gruelling afternoon’s work against a fired-up Gateshead side on a sweltering afternoon in England’s north east.

Scorers: Gateshead: Briggs 2; Marwood 39

Partick Thistle: Baird 80

After a week’s training at Durham University and a couple of closed-doors games, this was the First Division champions’ first chance to play in front of their fans this summer. With Gateshead’s International Stadium still closed for repair works, the game took place at New Ferens Park, a humble little ground in a leafy corner of an industrial park on the outskirts of Durham.

To add to the obscure setting, the plastic pitch had American football markings and posts behind each goal. Nonetheless, the journeying Thistle fans – there were well over 100 – turned up in good voice and, along with their vocal Heed counterparts, ensured the match kicked off amid a surprisingly raucous atmosphere.

The Thistle team that started the game had a relatively familiar look to it, with former Livingston, Kilmarnock and Dundee United forward Rory Boulding, playing as a trialist, the only new face. There were another four trialists on the bench, along with new striker John Baird.

The Blue Square Premier outfit were evidently hungry to claim the scalp of a Scottish top-flight side and within two minutes of kick-off, they had caught Thistle cold. Craig Baxter swung over a cross from the right, Liam Hatch nodded it down and Robbie Briggs took a touch before firing a fine strike beyond the helpless Thistle goalkeeper, Scott Fox, from just inside the box.

Partick striker Mark McGuigan tried to spark a response but he was muscled out by two Gateshead defenders as he tried to get a shot away from the edge of the box. With England’s north east basking in searing heat, both sets of players were evidently toiling, with every single player – and the match officials – heading pitchside to take on fluid during a break in play after half an hour.

Thistle’s Ross Forbes almost conjured an equaliser with their only serious effort of the first half, but his free-kick from 20 yards out floated just over the bar after 32 minutes.

Just as Partick looked to be getting on top, they fell further behind when, six minutes before the break, Gateshead’s James Marwood pinged a powerful strike from 20 yards out beyond Fox.

As expected, both sides made a host of half-time changes, with Gateshead changing their entire XI. Among the Thistle replacements, some with no numbers on the backs of their shirts, were Mark Kerr, the veteran holding midfielder, who came on as a trialist and new striker Baird.

Thistle were marginally the better team after the break, with defender Aaron Muirhead’s shot cannoning back off a Gateshead player in 68 minutes before Baird’s low, angled drive was blocked by the Heed goalkeeper.

The former Raith Rovers and Dundee striker eventually reduced Thistle’s arrears with ten minutes left when he latched on to a slack passback and ran clear to slot home.