Thistle's hopes of defending the Ross-shire Welfare league title took a turn for the worse tonight against league leaders Alness Athletic, losing 4-1 despite hard battling and perhaps the team's best performance of the season.
With manager Darren Mackay returning from holiday, there were just a handful of changes made to the side. Assistant Martyn Farquhar dropped out of the side due to the limit on North Caledonian players, while Liam Rostock and Darran Goller both returned up front. In midfield, Paul Cowie returned to the starting eleven, with Brian Cameron and Martin Smith dropping to the bench.
The game was always going to be toughly contested, as has been the theme for Tain and Alness in recent, but for the away side, the Links had always been something of a hoodoo venue, having never won a competitive game at Tain. It looked as though they may suffer a similar fate during the first half, as Thistle dictated play, forcing the Alness defence with frequent possession and clever running from Liam Rostock and Darran Goller. John Maclellan up front was first to test Andrew Maitland in goal for Alness with a stunning overhead kick that the 'keeper had to tip onto the crossbar. Maclellan again found himself clean through on Maitland shortly after, forcing a tremendous save. A penalty claim shortly after for a foul on Darran Goller was turned down, and Arron Christie was desperately unlucky with a free kick which sailed just wide of Maitland's left hand post.
At the other end, Donald Sutherland clipped Johnny Allan's inside post following an incisive break, and the Tain stopper was called into action a couple of times soon after, but largely it was the Jags who would have gone in at the break feeling like they had missed an opportunity to take the lead.
Tain followed the pattern that has seen them punished often this season, starting the second half badly, and within thirteen minutes of the restart, Alness took the first second half chance that was presented to them; Donald Sutherland nodding home a cross at the far post to put Alness 1-0 ahead. The goal appeared to take the steam out of Thistle, who had worked tirelessly during a fruitless first half.
The forward threat of Alness became increasingly apparent as they began to pass with flair and continue to threaten and within ten minutes they had gone 2-0 up; Shaun Robertson getting on the end of a Ross Thomson pass to slot home.
It took until the second goal for Tain to pick up the pace and that they did. Dragged out of his goal but an on-running Darran Goller, it took Dave Murray in the Alness defence to rescue the situation. Moments later, Liam Rostock had the ball in the back of net with a turning drive, but the referee adjudged that the striker was off-side, much to the consternation of the Jags' players.
The goal for Tain finally came on 80 mins, as Chris Mailley foxed the Alness defence with a long range effort that sailed underneath Maitland to reduce the deficit to 1-2.
With three minutes left on the clock, Thistle had pushed for an equaliser, but a combination of tiredness and moving higher up the park ultimately took its toll as Alness scored twice late on to record a very flattering scoreline of 4-1, Ross Thomson and Ally Rose the scorers.
Allan, Davis, Duff, A Christie, Brand, Cowie (Sutherland), Mailley, D Christie, Goller, Rostock, Maclellan (Smith)
Subs not used:
Defeat in the Pattisons' Cup first round on Saturday to Balintore was followed by a chance lost at King George V Park in Fortrose tonight in the Ross-shire Welfare league. A first half lead for the Jags was eventually cancelled out by two second half goals for the Black Isle side.
With manager Darren Mackay still absent, stand-in Martyn Farquhar recalled Chris Mailley to the starting XI, with Lewis Ross, Darran Goller, Joe Sutherland all unavailable through injury. Paul Cowie, struggling with a hip problem dropped to the bench, while Liam Rostock sat out due to limits on North Caledonian registered players. Alan Duff, returning to the side, slotted in at the back.
Tain started as the better team in the first half, Mailley proving to be a nuisance down the left flank, linking up well with Martin Smith and Arron Christie to test the Fortrose 'keeper, also named Martin Smith, with an effort on target. Moments later a similar move resulted in Mailley firing over. Arron Christie had the best shot of the opening stages, however, with a shot that rattled the joint of the crossbar and post and cannoned away to safety, the Fortrose defence breathing a sigh of relief.
At the other end, Duff and Brand were composed in dealing with any Union counters during the first period and rarely looked threatened. The goal eventually came in the 42nd minute from Martin Smith, turning a shot across the eighteen yard box, rifled into the net at his namesake's far post. The goal was a product of persistence and handed the Jags a deserved lead at half time.
The second half started as the first had ended with Tain on top, and this continued for some fifteen minutes, until a turn in the tide saw Fortrose pull a goal back, now pushing much higher up the park. Having been one of the Union's most likely threats, it was Rhys Shewan who scored the equaliser for the home side and suddenly the game was wide open. John Allan, in goal for Thistle, had done his level best to deny the striker with two brilliant saves but on the third time of asking he was left helpless.
Within minutes, Fortrose had the ball in the net once again but the goal was disallowed for infringement. This was only temporary, however, as Jordan Knight got the final touch on the home side's second goal following what seemed like a foul on Johnny Allan.
The Fortrose men, with ten minutes left on the clock, worked tirelessly to ensure that Thistle's chances to equalise were greatly diminished. A late free kick from Arron Christie produced a great save from Smith but that was to be all the action, as referee Robert Macmillan drew a close to proceedings.
Allan, Davis (Durrand), Cameron, Brand, Duff, Farquhar, A Christie, Mailley, Smith, Maclellan, D Christie (Mein)
Sub not used:
The Jags finally got off the mark with three points in the league tonight, beating bottom side Contin by 3 goals to 1. Despite going a goal down in the first half, the Tain men showed grit and determination to turn the game back in their favour to climb up to fourth in the Ross-shire Welfare league table.
Standing in for manager Darren Mackay, midfielder Martyn Farquhar made just one change to the side who drew 2-2 with Balintore last week - Martin Smith stepping in as a forward, while Joe Sutherland dropped to the bench. Missing from the substitutes were Lewis Ross and Andrew Bell.
The stand-in gaffer could have taken the lead for Thistle after only six minutes as the first chance of the game was presented a chance at the far post which he only had to tap into the net, but amazingly, Farquhar hit it wide. An early candidate for miss of the season!
Daniel Christie was unsuccessful moments later with a powerful drive, and Liam Rostock, forcing a save from the Contin keeper after 15 minutes, was unlucky not to score.
Frustration was starting to grow in the Tain ranks, as it was beginning to seem like another one of "those days" and shortly after, Contin had scored on the counter. A defensive slip up allowed Contin's Ryan Dow to take a swipe at goal, and his shot curled into the net at Johnny Allan's far post, leaving the Tain stopper stunned. Thistle were all at sea.
Just minutes later, Tain were handed a game changing let off, as Contin were presented with a clear chance to go 2-0 up. It was, however, and fortunately for Thistle, fired just over.
Liam Rostock would become the catalyst in Tain's comeback with eight minutes remaining in the first half. Capping off a half of hard work, he burst clear of the defence to fire a shot goal-ward, netting his first goal of the season via the onrushing legs of a Contin defender.
Thistle were now in control and shortly after, Darran Goller made it 2-1. A sublime finish from Goller summed up Thistle's rediscovery of the swagger that had been missing earlier in the half, as he calmly placed his shot over the Contin 'keeper.
The vigour and graft shown by Contin seemed to have disappeared by the second half, and even although the score remained close at 2-1, the visitors appeared content to contain the Jags' threat. There was one cry of a penalty claim for Contin with fifteen left on the clock, but nothing came of it.
Instead, at the other end, substitute John Maclellan made his mark with a goal from just inside the eighteen yard box, turning to squeeze the ball home between the Contin 'keeper and his near post. The goal had been the product of some incisive plays between the midfield and the Jags' forward line, with Maclellan himself unlucky not to nab another moments later.
Contin seemed to all but fold when they were reduced to ten men following a seconding off and the remaining ten minutes were played out with seemingly little to play for.
Thistle now go on to Pattisons' Cup 1st Round business, once again in action against Balintore at the Links. Due to the Scottish Cup Final, this game will be played at 12.00pm.
Allan, Cameron, Davis (Sutherland), Brand, A Christie, Cowie, Farquhar, D Christie, Goller, Rostock (Durrand), Smith (Maclellan)
Rostock 37, Goller 39, Maclellan 77
As manager Darren Mackay sets off on holiday, Thistle midfielder Martyn Farquhar has been elected as the gaffer's stand-in for the game against Contin and next Saturday's Pattisons' Cup first round match against Balintore.
The Jags favourite, who has played 146 times for Thistle in the Ross-shire Welfare league, is confident of three points against Contin.
"I'm delighted to take over while Darren is on holiday. Nothing but a win is acceptable next Wednesday!"
The second of two wicked deflections denied the Jags their first win of the season at Balintore's Seaboard Park this evening, following a valiant second half fight-back against one of this weekend's League Cup finalists.
Young goalkeeper Johnny Allan made his return to the Thistle team following his release from amateur business with Brora Rangers, while Lewis Ross also returned to the fold, on the bench. Joe Sutherland also made an unexpected return following an ankle injury.
As derbies do, the match begun with the fastest of paces, both sides aiming to get forward and take an early advantage. Terence Brady, hat-trick hero for the Seaboard men last time they met, tussled back and forth with Graeme Davis from the get-go but the lightning quick striker was kept at bay by the Thistle defender. In goal, Allan had little to do other than save a shot following an offside call. At the other end, however, Liam Rostock had the first chance of the game, running in between two defenders to bear down on former Jags keeper Steven Wemyss, before the ball unfortunately caught his shin and flew wide.
The opening goal came very much against the run of play and in unexpected circumstances. A harmless cross, sent in by Balintore's Robbie Murray, cannoned off the back of Arron Christie and sailed over the head of Allan, leaving the Jags dumbfounded as they found themselves 1-0 down. Thistle kept attacking, however, and Daniel Christie offered the next test, rifling in a shot from range which Wemyss had to tip over the bar, in the most athletic of fashions. Wemyss was tested again moments later, again by Christie, this time holding the ball from another cracker of a strike. A busy first half ended 1-0 to the home side.
Thistle upped the pressure in the second half and following the introduction of Martin Smith and Lewis Ross, Balintore's resolve was eventually broken. From a Daniel Christie corner, Martyn Farquhar was able to turn the ball into the net to make it 1-1 for what was a more than deserved scoreline by this point in the match.
Just thirteen minutes later, Thistle had asserted themselves as leaders in the match when, from another Jags corner, the ball was deflected into the net by a Balintore defender! Suddenly it was 2-1 to Tain.
Thistle continued to press for a third, Lewis Ross coming close with a shot at the near post which produced a great save from Wemyss. Darran Goller, who had worked tirelessly throughout the game, was unlucky shortly after, heading just over.
Martyn Farquhar, looking for his second, thought he had secured the third goal when his shot flew towards the top corner of Wemyss's goal but the ball flew just over, skimming the top of the bar with pace.
For all of Balintore's counter attacks though, Michael Brand, Arron Christie and Graeme Davis were up to the task in defence, that was, until within three minutes of remaining time. As the clock ran down, a lapse in defence allowed Ben Brown a chance from outside the eighteen yard box, which he fired goalward, and Johnny Allan could only watch as the ball took a horrible deflection off a wall of Tain defenders and rolled into the net.
Both sides moved into fifth gear in search of a winner towards the end, but there was to be no additional time and very quickly, the game was drawn to a close. The Jags will certainly feel that two points were dropped tonight. Their next league test will be at home to new boys Contin next Wednesday, with a 7.30pm kick off.
Allan, Cameron (L Ross), Sutherland, Davis, A Christie, Brand, Cowie (Smith), D Christie, Farquhar, Rostock (Durrand), Goller
Subs not used:
Farquhar 62, Unknown o.g. 75