Match report and video highlights by Robert Allen
Bathgate Thistle suffered a late collapse to throw away a three goal lead in their second to last home match against Thornton Hibs in the McBookie.com East Premier League. Leading 4-1 midway through the second half, the match finished all square at 4 a piece.
Bathgate returned to competitive action and the pitch at The Creamery was looking in absolutely mint condition and perfect for football. After the previous weeks experimental line-up in the match against Stoneyburn manager Andrew Colley was able to field a much more familiar line-up in this penultimate league fixture of the season. There were still some notable absentees however namely midfielder Stuart McLeod and keeper Michael Watson. The Jags named a trialist, James Penman, in goals. Hassan Nyang returned in central defence alongside Darren MacIsaac and Daren McIntosh and Grant MacDonald completed the back four. The skipper, Graham Baird, returned to his more familiar position in central midfield alongside Stephen Easton. Rhys Minnock and Gordon Harris supported on the flanks, and regular strike duo Robbie Feeney and Bryan Jaconelli started up front.
The match started brightly for Bathgate as they attacked the Thornton goal right from kick off. An early corner was not cleared by the away defenders. The ball eventually found itself on the left wing with Harris. He produced a couple of step-overs to leave his marker standing and then fed the ball inside to Minnock. He made a yard for himself and curled a right footed effort in from 20 yards that seemed to have beaten the goalie but came back off the bar and was cleared.
In reply the visitors carved open a chance of their own although they could not get in front. A poor kick out from the trialist in the Bathgate goal went straight to the away number 8 who played a first time ball into the path of Hibs’ Crichton. He struck a low shot across the face of the goal but Penman made up for the poor kick by producing a marvellous save to tip the effort round the post.
Shortly after Bathgate were forced into a major reshuffle at the back as Darren MacIsaac injured himself whilst making a tackle to halt a player. It seemed innocuous but it became clear quickly that he would not be able to continue and he was replaced by Jack McGurk. This saw MacDonald go and play in the centre of defence with McGurk filling in at left back.
After 11 minutes Bathgate took the lead. A short corner on the right was worked between Harris and Minnock, the latter managing to work the ball to the edge of the box where Easton struck a first time shot from 20 yards into the back of the net. The keeper managed to get a touch but the power and accuracy saw it fly home and put The Jags into an early lead.
Bathgate could have doubled their advantage a minute later. Minnock chased a long ball down the right hand side and managed to deliver an excellent cross into the box but Feeney could not get his header on target and the chance was gone.
Then, a gilt edged opportunity was handed to the visitors when Bathgate conceded a penalty to the visitors. McIntosh made a clumsy challenge in the box giving the ref no choice but to award a spot kick. He was lucky not to be handed a yellow card. Chris Ireland stepped up to take it but his effort was saved by Penman diving to his right in the Bathgate goal. A real let off for the home side then came when the Hibs player following up ballooned the rebound wide when it seemed easier to score.
There then followed a strong spell for the Fife Hibees when they managed to exert some pressure on the makeshift home defence. Two key interceptions by the ever impressive Nyang sandwiched a header from a corner that dropped onto the top of the net. They were being berated by their manager on the sidelines who no doubt knew that it was vital for his side to take advantage of the spells in the match when his side were on top if they were to take anything from the game.
And this was underlined when Bathgate scored again on 34 minutes. Excellent build up play in midfield, started by Easton, saw Minnock drive into the box menacingly on the right. He looked up and picked out Bryan Jaconelli with a pinpoint pass. Jaconelli’s excellent shot with the outside of his boot from the penalty spot left the keeper with no chance and Bathgate with a two goal lead. The remainder of the half was very comfortable with little in the way of goalmouth action. HT 2-0
Halftime came and went and the teams emerged ready for battle. Bathgate had the first chance of the half when Grant MacDonald found himself free at the back post at a corner. The header was powerful but unfortunately for the defender he was not able to guide it into the net and the keeper comfortably saved. Thornton then went close when Wilson had a shot from the edge of the area which just rolled wide of the left hand post after some nice passing in midfield.
The visitors did score shortly afterwards to half the deficit and it was a calamitous mistake from McGurk that led to the opportunity. He woefully underhit a backpass from 40 yards the keeper and Wilson was onto it in a flash. His initial shot was straight at the keeper but he was able to pick up the rebound, turn inside and get another shot off. It was weak and straight at the goalie but it somehow squeezed through his grasp and trundled into the net. Penman would have been disappointed with that but in truth it was the mistake from the backpass that had led to the chance.
Within two minutes Bathgate restored their two goal cushion. Harris received a lay off from Feeney who had dropped deep. He then played a first time ball right between the Hibs central defence and Jaconelli raced onto it, touched it round the keeper, and rolled it nonchalantly into the net. He had done well to read the pass and this had allowed him the time to compose himself for a fine finish and get his second of the game.
The fourth goal then arrived after 68 minutes when Hassan Nyang got on the end of a Harris free-kick that was curled towards the back post and appeared to be heading out. The Jags talisman though did not give up on the ball and actually headed the ball behind the keeper and into the goal from a narrow angle. As he wheeled away to celebrate what should have been the clinching goal it appeared that the game was now won and the three points were staying in Bathgate but what followed was part stunning comeback and part defensive collapse.
Thornton Hibs are fighting for their survival at the foot of the league and it is true that there is nothing more dangerous as a wounded animal. They began their fightback after winning a foul on the right of midfield. The high diagonal ball played into the box was not defended well at all and after at least two failed chances to clear and a save from the keeper the ball fell at the feet of Ireland who blasted the ball high into the roof of the net to make it 4-2.
Very quickly this was 4-3 and Wilson scored his second of the game from a terrific header after managing to get onto a cross from the right back area. He did really well to turn his neck and power the ball past the keeper. The momentum had shifted and was now firmly with the away team. The Bathgate defence were looking nervous and lacking composure when being put under pressure and when the equaliser came there was almost a sense of inevitability about it.
With two minutes to go Wilson completed a memorable hat-trick when he placed a shot under the keeper and the scores were tied. Great credit should go to players who had managed to grab a draw which would surely have felt like a victory, but there is no doubt that the draw was a bitterly disappointing result for Bathgate having been in such control just 15 minutes earlier. Incredibly Bathgate could have still won it had Jaconelli been able to score when he lobbed the keeper when one on one close to the end but this would have been cruel on the away side.
After the match Davie Strathie, Assistant Manager of Bathgate Thistle said – ‘We’re playing teams that are fighting for their lives out there. We just could not defend. The reshuffle at the back was a massive factor. We had to use a player who was not a central defender and we got exposed. But, at 4-1 up we should be winning. We just didn’t defend as a team and we paid the price for that.’
Bathgate: Trialist; MacDonald, McIntosh, MacIsaac, Nyang; Baird, Easton, Minnock, Harris; Feeney, Jaconelli
So, a disappointing result in the end but we will be looking to finish the season on a high next week when Lochee come calling to The Creamery.
Please join us and give the players the send-off for the season that they deserve. Last season we escaped relegation on the final day and the team has come on leaps and bounds this year to allow us to enjoy this final match and look forward to big things next year. Together we are stronger.