By Jonathon Reilly
A battling team performance earned Bathgate Thistle a 2-1 victory over Dundee Violet at a bitterly cold Glenesk Park.
Goals from Richard Hutton and Gordon Harris either side of the interval secured the three points for the Jags as they moved up two places in the league table to sixth position.
Resolute defending and clinical finishing saw Bathgate come out on top in a match between two sides who were most concerned with claiming the win and less fussed by the manner in which it was achieved on a blustery day in the City of Discovery.
It was the home side who began this encounter the liveliest with Ryan Dignan registering the game’s first attempt on goal but his shot flew well over the bar.
Martin Szpak then had a go at opening the scoring with a curling effort which went wide of Gavin McQuillan’s right-hand post.
A last ditch challenge and clearance by Darren MacIsaac then snuffed out a promising Dundee attack on 20 minutes.
Just a few minutes later Bathgate found themselves in the lead with what was their first real foray into the opposition’s penalty area. Jack McGurk’s searching cross to the back post narrowly evaded Bryan Jaconelli but Richard Hutton was on hand to rifle in a half volley with his right foot which left Dundee keeper Gary Thain with no chance.
Not a minute had passed before the hosts were up the other end trying to carve out a scoring opportunity for themselves as Craig Batchelor scraped an effort just inches wide of McQuillan’s near post.
Dundee’s left-back Paul Baker went even closer with a thundering left-footed drive which struck the joint where the post meets the bar after Hutton’s clearing header landed kindly for him on the edge of the box.
Though Bathgate were managing to keep their opponents at bay for long spells of the first half, a misplaced header – this time from Lee Fairley – presented Lee Munro with a chance to prod the ball home at the far post but it was one he squandered as his effort sailed over.
Barry Wilson felt aggrieved 10 minutes before the break when play was halted and his goal was ruled out for offside which did appear to be the correct call from the linesman.
With the half time whistle drawing near, and challenges flying in as both sets of players tried to take control of the game, Andrew Malone was penalised for a foul on Batchelor shortly before Calum Cox was warned for his aerial barge into McQuillan.
The second half began in the same fashion as the first with Dundee looking to find a goal but being limited to half chances by a stubborn Bathgate defence.
Batchelor did find the space five minutes after the restart to tee up Munro but his effort was deflected wide while Dignan shot wide from Gavin Hood’s corner.
But once again it was the away side who took their opportunity in front of goal as they doubled their advantage through Harris on the hour.
Captain Graham Baird played a fine slide rule pass in behind Baker and the rest of the Dundee defence for Hutton to run on to. His cross-come-shot looked to be going past the post only for Harris to get on the end of it for an easy finish into an open goal.
Again, Dundee moved swiftly to break up the park and test McQuillan just a minute after conceding. The Jags keeper was more than equal to Wilson’s low shot though and Bathgate were almost out of sight a few minutes later when Hutton produced a clever dink from outside the box which was just a yard or two out from catching Thain off guard in the Dundee goal.
It would not be all plain sailing for Bathgate in the final 20 minutes, though, as the hosts eventually managed to find a way back into the game.
With centre half MacIsaac off the pitch temporarily to receive treatment on an injury, Dundee made the most of their numerical advantage when Wilson’s cushioned header landed at the feet of Dignan who casually swept the ball into the bottom corner to make it 2-1 and set up a tense finale.
Bathgate boss Andy Colley was then forced to bring the injured MacIsaac off and introduce Paul Davidson as his replacement at the back.
The final 10 minutes were frantic as Bathgate’s backline held firm against numerous high balls in and around their own penalty area.
Dundee came within a few feet of drawing level in the very last minute only for McGurk to clear Robert Urquhart’s goal-bound effort off the line and ensure the Jags’ lead remained intact.
The Jags will now head into next Saturday’s third round Scottish Cup tie at home to Oakley United brimming with confidence after what was an impressive team performance up on the east coast.
Afterwards winger Hutton revealed his delight at scoring his side’s opener and admitted the squad was well aware of the test they would face before kick-off.
He said: “It bounced twice in the six-yard box, I couldn’t believe it! After Greenock I was just happy to put it in the back of the net.
“We knew coming up here with the weather we were going to have to grind it out and we knew we wouldn’t play much football.
“We just had to battle for each other. Andy said at the beginning of the game: ‘It’s not about football today, it’s just getting the result and working for each other.’”