ALL forms of football life were to be found at Firhill yesterday. For Partick, the celebrations, the pitch invasions, the trophy presentation for a First Division title already won. For Dunfermline, meanwhile, only desolation. Sheer, soul-destroying, desolation.
Scorers: Partick Thistle - McMillan 27, Erskine 82, Lawless 90+5; Dunfermline Athletic - Wallace 65, Thomson 67, 80
It was the Maryhill club’s day, of course it was, with the First Division trophy paraded in front of more the 5,000 fans after the home side had preserved their unbeaten league record under Alan Archibald by storming back from 3-1 down with only ten minutes of regulation time to play. But the fact that meant their equaliser did not arrive until four minutes and 59 seconds of time added on by referee Willie Collum meant the tug on the heart strings prompted by the occasion drew you Fife-wards.
Dunfermline supporters haven’t had any reason for real cheer since their club slid into administration and footballing purgatory five weeks ago. A future for who knows how long, their struggle for survival was given an immediate face when a 15-point deduction put them in a scrap with Cowdenbeath to avoid the play-offs. For almost five minutes past the 90 in Glasgow’s west end, Jim Jefferies’ side thought they had secured their First Division status. Their 510 travelling fans joyfully chorused “we’re staying up” after an incredible second-half showing had allowed them to overturn a 1-0 half-time deficit. Then a ball hoofed into the box in hope, more than anything else was inadvertently knocked on by Chris Erskine to Steve Lawless who hooked a shot beyond the outstretched arm of despairing keeper Michael Hrivnak. It made for a final act that wasn’t just cruel; it was crueller than cruel.
“It is the most gutted I have ever felt after a game; we gave one magnificent performance in the second half,” said Jefferies. The superlatives kept on coming from him for the second 45. “Unbelievable” and “phenomenal” he called it.
His certainty was that Collum was wrong to extend the encounter by five and a half minutes, the referee doing so because Ryan Thomson, who scored twice in an epic second period, was down injured for a couple of minutes. Jefferies said his team had a “grievance with Mr Collum” because for most the Thomson’s time on the deck, play raged on. “He limped off as soon as the ball went out,” Jefferies despaired. He despaired too of his team missing three glaring chances in the opening minutes of a second 45 that saw them transformed from the first. “We should have been 6-1,” Jefferies said. In the end, the legs of his young side buckled as Partick sniffed a comeback on their glory day which, the Dunfermline manager said, can be what happens when “they give you everything”.
Thistle players have given everything for Archibald in the three months he has been at the helm following the departure of Jackie McNamara – whose efforts in the club’s first top-flight promotion in almost a decade were remembered by the home denizens with a charming ditty “who the f*** is McNamara, as the Jags go marching on”.
They do go marching on because, according to their manager, of what they dredged from within themselves when yesterday’s encounter looked lost after Thomson capitalised on slack defending to clip in a third for his team, following a second which seemed to follow an infringement on former Dunfermline defender and now Partick pivot Andy Dowie.
“The late goals just typified the never-say-die spirit the team has,” Archibald said. “We didn’t want things to peter out as sometimes these games can be an anti-climax but we showed a great attitude, as we have done all year. We had four midfielders missing and that showed in the second half. It could have ruined the party if we had lost but it gave us the chance to give other boys a game.”
The rejigged nature of the home side was not in evidence as they pinned a lacklustre looking Dunfermline back for most of a middling first period. And when they took the lead, it seemed as if the identity of the scorer would make the goal one of those fateful football quirks. A terrific crossfield run from the United-bound Erskine led to him sliding the ball through to forward-pounding fullback Jordan McMillan to bury a low shot. McMillan, until administration hit, was a Dunfermline player. Until yesterday, he had never started for Thistle.
The turnaround that came almost instantly following the restart was initiated by the mazy running of Josh Falkingham and some clever forward interplay that allowed Jefferies’ side to expose weaknesses in the home backline. Alan Smith and Ryan Wallace couldn’t covert when presented with golden opportunities to do so – one effort cleared on the line – meaning their domination appeared as if it would count for nothing.
That changed when Wallace smartly finished when wriggling clear in the box but ultimately, despite coming so agonisingly close to avoiding the need to win at home to Airdrie United on the final day of the season to absolutely make sure of they stay in the division, their season will come down to what happens in that game next Saturday. Their long-term future, meanwhile, will remain in the hands of administrators.