The old cliché about taking things one game at a time certainly earns a refresh when it comes to observing the absorbing battle to beat the drop in this season’s Premiership. Just when it seemed Motherwell were about to lift themselves out of the relegation play-off place on the back of some fine results, it all came to a juddering halt at Firhill yesterday as Partick Thistle simply flattened them in the second half and put some clear water between themselves and the Lanarkshire side.
Scorers: Partick Thistle - Taylor 54, 61
At half time few would have seen the final result in this game coming. It had been a tense, turgid opening 45 minutes with Alan Archibald’s men barely getting a shot on target. Come the restart they were transformed out of recognition and Lyle Taylor had a double within 16 minutes to ensure a third consecutive home win for the Maryhill side and with it probably their Premiership status for another campaign.
When asked just what had made the difference Archibald insisted it was simply a matter of getting his creative players on the ball more after a first half played out in trying, blustery conditions. That and Taylor suddenly rediscovering his nose for goal. “He’s always a threat and as a centre half he’s a nightmare to play against as he’s always on your shoulder,” said the manager.
“He was a pest all day. He got stick for missing a couple of sitters last week, but he’s come back today and got a couple. I’m delighted for him.”
Considerable comment had been passed ahead of this game about the excitement that would be generated in the post-split fixtures in the bottom six if Motherwell were able to prevail in this encounter and draw Thistle into the thick of the play-off place battle. The arid quality of much of the play in the first half here was, however, a sobering reality check. It was hurried, singularly lacking in calm heads and to be honest sore on the eyes.
In an opening 45 minutes which probably left most who witnessed it struggling to remember any decent passages of play, the best chance fell to the visitors right at the beginning. Abdul Osman misjudged the pace of a ball making its way towards his own goalkeeper Scott Fox and John Sutton nipped in to send a shot which was only tipped away from goal by the toe of Frederic Frans. Aside from that Ian Barraclough’s men rarely threatened, but they were comfortable enough for a long spell as Thistle took their time in getting into gear.
The home side started to get some joy down the right flank from the typically tireless running of Stephen O’Donnell and the deft touches of Ryan Stevenson, but all too often the final ball was wanting.
But then came the interval followed by a near seismic transformation from the hosts. They emerged turbo-charged, simply unrecognisable from their previous cagey and indecisive selves. There was a pace not only in Thistle’s movement but more importantly their passing exchanges which enabled them to slice through a suddenly bedraggled looking visiting rearguard.
The pressure quickly took its toll with a free kick floated in from the right by O’Donnell picking out Frans who was hovering at the far post. The big defender directed a header across face of goal and the on-rushing Taylor simply couldn’t miss to put the Firhill side one up.
Somewhat ironically given his match-winning contribution, Taylor was shortly afterwards attracting groans of disbelief from his own supporters as, put in the clear with another slick interchange of passes, he then fluffed a great chance to get a second almost immediately as he failed to beat George Long with the goal at his mercy.
It’s the sign of a striker in confident mood that he unflinchingly steps up to the plate the next time a decent chance comes along and he was once again receiving the acclaim of his team-mates and fans as he drove the ball home from virtually on the goal line after the Motherwell defence was once again carved apart.
This was just over the hour mark and the contest was over. The visitors, who had been indifferent in the opening 45 minutes, were plain insipid after the break with Fox left completely untroubled. Thistle should have added to their total with Conrad Balatoni narrowly heading wide and O’Donnell sending a shot fizzing past Long’s far post. For Motherwell a forgettable 90 minutes was completed by Stuart Carswell’s sending off for a second yellow card offence as the final whistle loomed.
“It was definitely two different halves” lamented Baraclough afterwards, who felt his side held the upper hand in the opening 45 minutes. “Second half we couldn’t get it going, they asked more questions than us and we couldn’t get a foothold in the game”.
Partick Thistle: Fox; O’Donnell, Frans, Balatoni, Booth; Bannigan, Stevenson, Osman, Lawless; Higginbotham, Taylor (Doolan 80).
Motherwell: Long; Law, Laing, McManus, Straker; Ainsworth (Thomas 67), Lasley (Carswell 75), Pearson, Erwin; Sutton (Moore 75), McDonald.
Referee: R Madden. Attendance: 5,003.
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