THEY say all good things must come to an end but few, if any, would have predicted Inverness Caledonian Thistle’s proud home unbeaten run crashing quite as spectacularly as it did in this thorough mauling by the Maryhill men.
Scorers: Partick Thistle - Stevenson (12), (40), Fraser (49), Balatoni (56)
A wonderful, eight-month spell had seen Inverness imperious at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium with even Celtic humbled at the fortress-like home ground. And the thumping nature of this victory even seemed to catch away manager Alan Archibald by surprise, although there was obvious method to the Firhill manager’s well-formed gameplan.
Archibald set his team out shrewdly to counter Caley Thistle’s strengths, not least the comfort at which they move the ball from the back. Yesterday, the two full-backs, so often instigators of attacking moves for Inverness, were rarely given a moment’s peace.
That tenacity set the tone and created the platform for a deadly double from Ryan Stevenson that inspired the Glasgow visitors before Gary Fraser and Konrad Balatoni struck the fatal blows.
It was 13th game unlucky for the hosts, then, on home turf and Archibald admitted he was startled by the comprehensive manner of victory. “It was a shock to come up here and win 4-0, but we had a gameplan – and I thought we stuck to it really well,” Archibald said. “We stopped Inverness in their stride and got that vital first goal.
“I’ve been very impressed with Inverness, and the way John [Hughes] has got them playing. They’ve been really good in recent weeks in the way they move the ball about. It was something we had to stop them doing, and also move the ball really quickly ourselves which we did. We touched on it in the team-talk. The lads deserve every praise – it was a great performance.”
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Ex-Hearts forward Stevenson doubled his own season’s tally in one fell swoop for a team that had previously managed only five away goals all campaign.
Early on, there should have been an opener for the hosts when Billy McKay sent Marley Watkins racing clean through on goalkeeper Paul Gallacher. He tried to shut down the angle but was beaten by Watkins’ low strike – only to see it slip wide. Partick, though, were impressing with their use of the ball – and grabbed the lead after 12 minutes.
Christie Elliott’s low cross was excellent after his break on the right and Stevenson slid in between defenders and in front of keeper Dean Brill to stab home the close-range finish. Partick were enterprising, but Caley Thistle were unusually sloppy at times on the ball despite taking the game to their Glasgow opponents. A ripping strike from 30 yards by Greg Tansey tested Gallacher again, with the veteran keeper having to show strong hands to parry wide of the post.
The second goal arrived five minutes before the break, with Gary Warren failing to get his head on a chipped ball forward. Gary Fraser rolled the ball square to Stevenson who this time lifted a terrific 20-yard strike beyond Brill’s reach and into the roof of the net.
It could have been three for Partick two minutes before the break when Daniel Seaborne’s powerful header drew a fantastic diving save from Brill.
Four minutes after the re-start, Stevenson turned provider with a left-foot cut-back from the right to set up Gary Fraser for a searing header in off the underside of the bar. Then came a moment of high controversy that sparked fury in the home technical area. David Raven sent a fearsome 35-yard effort bobbling past the unsighted Gallacher. Celebrations were cut short by linesman David McGeachie’s raised flag, the official judging that a couple of blue shorts in the box had interfered with the keeper’s line of vision.
To the home crowd’s disbelief, it was four after 57 minutes. Stuart Bannigan’s corner was swept in from the right and Konrad Balatoni rose to fire a fine header high past Brill.
Home manager John Hughes acted by making a double substitution after 65 minutes with the trickery of Aaron Doran and young Ryan Christie injected in place of Ross Draper and James Vincent.
But Partick deserved great credit for absorbing the best of that thrown at them by Hughes’ side as they battled to find a way back.
Two young fans invaded the pitch later in the game and one tried to haul down keeper Gallacher’s shorts.
But it was Inverness Caley Thistle who were caught with their pants down yesterday.
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