The Scottish Communities League Cup took centre stage this weekend as Partick Thistle took on Berwick Rangers at Firhill. Both teams looked to continue their good form after they both picked up victories in the Ramsdens Cup. The Jags relied on goals from David Rowson and Tommy Stewart to take them through with a 2-1 victory over Stenhousemuir. While Berwick overcame Clyde after they won 4-3 in a tense penalty shoot-out.
The Borderers were welcomed with a bouncy castle in the car park, as the Jags hoped to disorientate their guests. Those who did avoid being sick were made all the more cheery with the admission prices to Firhill. Only £10 for adults and £5 for concession with under 16s getting in for free. All this seemed to be in an effort to boost the attendance, and the Jags succeeded in attracting 1,255 fans.
The fans were greeted with delightful weather as the two teams took to the field. Paul Cairney returned for the Jags while Damon Gray made his return for the Wee Gers.
The Jags and Borderers both shared a freekick each early on. Kevin McDonald had his dangerous freekick deflected wide while Aaron Sinclair had his effort easily dealt with by ex Thistle Jamie Barclay. Less than a minute later, Kris Doolan expertly plucked the ball out of the air from a Scott Fox long ball, unfortunately for the Jags man, he dragged his shot wide.
It was Thistle though who looked the more likely to score, a fine Thistle move involving Chris Erskine, Paul Cairney and Kris Doolan created an opportunity for Tommy Stewart but he saw his shot parried wide. From the resulting corner the ball found its way to Paul Cairney at the edge of the box, but he thundered his shot just by the left hand post. After only half an hour of the game, Referee Steven McLean had booked five players. This was to set the tone for the rest of the match which was by no means a dirty game.
Partick Thistle though took a deserved lead, after Chris Erskine latched onto a through ball, and he put in the perfect cross for Paul Cairney to nod home into an empty net.
Just as it seemed that Thistle would go on to dominate, the Wee Gers got an unlikely equaliser. Great play from Steve Thomson allowed Stuart Noble to cross in and Damon Gray was on hand to poke the ball into the net. All of a sudden it was the Borderers who were on top, as Fraser McLaren saw his shot fire off the crossbar. The game was now flowing from one end to the other, Tommy Stewart unlucky to see his goal disallowed for offside.
The beginning of the second half saw Paul Paton being sent off for a foul on Kevin McDonald. The full back given his marching orders for being the last man.
Despite the sending off, it was Thistle who created the better chances. Kris Doolan found Tommy Stewart and he returned the favour only for Doolan to volley wide. On the hour mark, the Wee Gers created a great opportunity to take the lead. Paul Currie found himself in acres of space, but the former Raith Rovers man took too long and Aaron Sinclair got back to block his effort. That gilt-edged chance was not to be punished however as the Borderers took the lead. Stuart Noble did brilliantly to turn the Thistle defense inside out, then rifle his shot into the bottom right hand corner.
A delightful goal for the Borderers but things were to get even worse for the Jags as Conrad Balatoni was sent off, giving away a penalty in the process. Paul Currie duly dispatched the penalty, making up for his earlier sitter.
With eight minutes to go though, the ref tried his best to make the game into a farce as he sent off Kevin McDonald for two albeit rash challenges. Tommy Stewart had one final effort for the Jags but it wasnt to be enough and the Wee Gers ran out deserved winners.
It was quite an achievement for the Third Division side and manager Jimmy Crease was understandably delighted: “We are delighted to be in the next round of the cup but realistically its a cup we are not going to win. It does however give us confidence going into the new season and hopefully we can kick on in the league.”
Goalscorer Damon Gray added: “I thought we matched them all over the park and although they got a couple men sent off, I thought we were worthy winners. I was glad to score the goal which was a good strikers goal.”
Jackie McNamara was far from pleased with his sides display: “It’s been a frustrating day. I’m very unhappy with our defending, it was school boy stuff at times. I hope this is a wake up call for our players, as it’s certainly a wake up call for me. I’m really disappointed to be out the cup.”
Berwick Rangers must fancy themselves to repeat a shock after their impressive win. Thistle though will go back to the drawing board and hope they can turn things round for the start of the new Scottish Football League season.
Written by David Doherty | © Photos by James Turnbull