IT IS all very well Dundee United doing it in the glamour games – beating the champions and thumping their city rivals – but if their title bid is at all serious then they have to win on cold, grey January afternoons when every groan can be heard.
Scorers: Partick Thistle - Stevenson 24, Doolan 32; Dundee United - Mackay-Steven 10, Ciftci 73
It was Firhill for chills and very nearly worse than two points dropped for United. They started like they might blow Thistle away but ended the first half very nearly out of the contest themselves. Nadir Ciftci scored their equaliser and a draw was all they deserved because Thistle’s comeback was stirring and the home team were never less than plucky after that.
Jackie McNamara, the United manager, had come to his former place of work hoping that the 6-2 thrashing of Dundee in particular would drive his team onwards. He will have been reminded of the civility of Firhill when the stadium announcer thanked the United support for boosting the attendance. But if anything his team were too polite, lacking the ruthlessness to kill the game when they had the chance.
Dan Seaborne and his fellow Jags had been left kicking their heels on New Year’s Day after the Firhill pitch was declared, well, seaborne. It looked to have dried out well enough before kick-off but Seaborne didn’t make it, a bug victim like Christie Elliott. Injuries did for others, injury and suspension for Kallum Higginbotham, usually a reason to watch Thistle for buccaneering wingmanship in the tradition of Denis McQuade. In all there were five changes from their last game, a defeat at Motherwell. United unsurprisingly went again with their derby record-breakers.
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Another reason to like Thistle is they play lovely prog-rock before their home matches – Sylvia by the Dutch group Focus, a song which was already 23 hoary years old before Liam Lindsay and Declan McDaid, two kids pitched in yesterday, were born.
McDaid was making his debut on the right wing while his fellow 19-year-old Lindsay got a good view of Dale Keenan cocking up on the halfway line in the opening seconds, Ciftci feeding Gary Mackay-Steven only for the two-goal derby hero to take an unusually heavy touch which compromised his shot and Paul Gallacher saved.
But Thistle did not learn the lesson when the same pair combined for the opener on ten minutes. This time Ciftci’s delivery came in long from the left flank and Keenan was caught ball-watching as Mackay-Steven netted.
Thistle huffed and puffed. They had not given their fans a home win for three months and it showed. Stuart Brannigan was at least industrious and the faithful were outraged when he wasn’t awarded a free kick at the edge of the United box. “Come on ref,” cried one, “this is hard enough.”
But on 23 minutes the Jags equalised. A Gary Fraser corner from the left seemed to carry little threat in its floaty manner but Radoslaw Cierzniak made the wrong decision to come, then stop, and Ryan Stevenson headed into the unguarded net.
It would very quickly get even better. Kris Doolan volleyed sweetly from a Stevenson cross, Cierzniak saving, but the same player would not be denied on 32 minutes when a Fraser cross from the right broke to him ten yards out. “Jackie, Jackie, what’s the score?” sang the Maryhill choir. This wasn’t in the script for United’s bid for a serious challenge.
Before the interval it almost got worse when Steven Lawless, who had played a busy, buzzy part in the revival, forced Cierzniak to tip his low shot round the post. Then, even more alarmingly for United, who had fallen right out of things, Thistle had two attempts at goal in mere seconds, first Doolan sclaffing and then Fraser forcing another desperate save.
Thistle had not lost all eccentricity. In the second half, Stevenson cut in from the left and lined himself up for a shot, only for the ball to skew horribly across the park, the swerve sending it out of play further back from where the player had let fly. But United continued to show very little. Next to nothing had been seen of Stuart Armstrong, rumoured to be interesting Celtic along with Ciftci. When the latter, within minutes, miskicked and blazed over, the shout from the Jackie Husband Stand was: “Sign him!”
Ciftci would get the leveller on 73 minutes. Mackay-Stevens who had been dreadfully quiet since that opening burst, roared through the middle and when he was blocked, Ciftci hammered home, growling at his critics as he raced back for the restart.
Three substitutions had made a difference but United still weren’t pulverising Thistle. Ryan Dow was the most prominent of the replacements and he and Mackay-Steven went closest in United’s late bid for all three points. Consistency is United’s New Year resolution, but it’s an elusive thing.
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