Match Report by Robert Allan
Saturday afternoon saw the visit of McBookie.com East Premier League promotion hopefuls Jeanfield Swifts to The Creamery. The corresponding fixture last month had seen the Perth side run out 4-1 winners so Jags boss Andrew Colley was well aware that his side faced a difficult task. The return of some key players, including club captain Graham Baird, and the ability to pick something close to his strongest side must have filled him with confidence that his side could pull off a result.
Bathgate kicked off the match and things did not go immediately to plan. The first couple of minutes were even and no side had managed to get a grip of the game before the visitors grabbed a somewhat fortunate lead. Jeanfield worked the ball out to the right wing and a decent cross was met by the unlucky Stuart McLeod who headed into his own net from a few yards out. A far from ideal beginning.
Yet the Bathgate players did not let their heads go down after this early setback. They were showing early that they were not afraid to pass the ball around across the midfield and this allowed them to assert themselves. They drew a foul on the right flank and a good cross by McLeod met a Bathgate head and although the header was not powerful enough to trouble the keeper it was a sign that they were able to threaten the Jeanfield goal.
Indeed, they did not have to wait long to get an equaliser. On 11 minutes some neat play between McLeod and Bryan Jaconelli saw a dangerous ball into the box which hit a leg and looped over the away keeper’s head. This was no more than Bathgate deserved after such a positive response to falling behind. In truth they never looked back from this point.
Robin Feeney managed to get a shot in on goal shortly after. Jeanfield attempted to get the ball wide right to their winger Christopher Dodds as often as they could and he was able to put in a couple of crosses into dangerous areas but the Bathgate central defence of Hassan Nyang and the returning Darren MacIssac were coping well.
On 16 minutes Bathgate appeared to be denied a spot-kick when Grant MacDonald raced onto a long ball from MacIssac and appeared to be brought down by the opposing keeper just inside the right hand side of the penalty area. The referee blew for a foul but adjudged the contact to be outside the box much to the annoyance of the home players and bench. The resultant free kick led to a header that was deflected behind for a corner but Jeanfield managed to clear their lines.
Jags skipper Baird then found himself in the book after clipping the heels of an advancing Jeanfield midfielder.
The Bathgate midfield were starting to control the game. The sharp passing and quick breaking, especially by Stephen Easton, was proving to be too much for the away side to handle and though Jeanfield continued to try and work the ball in to wide areas there was little success.
The only real concern for Bathgate was that their first half performance would not be rewarded by the half time lead they so richly deserved. A Baird shot from 18 yards and a couple of efforts from Feeney failed to threaten but the chance to grab the second was presented when a sharp incursion into the box by Harris was stopped by an outstretched leg and the referee pointed to the spot. Feeney stepped up and sent the keeper the wrong way to give Bathgate a 2-1 lead.
Jeanfield tried to get back on terms right away and some frantic play in and around the Bathgate box ended with Anthony Holt falling over when he was poised to shoot. Bathgate heeded this warning and saw the rest of the half out to head back to the changing rooms much the happier of the sides. HT 2-1
The second half saw the teams emerge with no changes to the line-ups. The first meaningful attack by either side was a run on the right wing by Jeanfields Dodds but Jags defender Darren McIntosh was alert and able to clear.
Easton had started the second half like he ended the first and his quick passing with fellow midfielders Baird, McLeod and Harris was pivotal in controlling the match. Bathgate was winning most of the first and second balls. In the air they were dominant and the composure shown by the defence on the occasions that the visitors were able to advance up the pitch meant that the home goalkeeper, Michael Watson, was a spectator for large spells of the game.
This was not lost on the visiting manager, Ross Gunnion, and he made a double change on 56 minutes. Robbie Holden and Anthony Holt made way for Lewis Baker and Kevyn Fowler as the Perth side looked for a way back into the game.
Bathgate however continued to press them back and when they won a corner Nyang was unlucky to see nobody get on the end of a terrific header played back across the goal. The third goal arrived after 63 minutes when a long raking throw-in by McIntosh caused havoc in the penalty area. McLeod instinctively forced a shot that the keeper could only parry and Nyang finished himself this time from 6 yards with a shot high into the net. 3-1 Thistle.
The home support was really enjoying the performance from their side. They were also quick to show their disapproval when a heavy challenge by the away number 19 was accompanied by the flash of his studs. A yellow was shown and it could so easily have been a red but in fairness the game was played in a good spirit despite the one-sided nature of it.
And so the fourth goal came after 73 minutes. Bathgate won a corner after some determined play. Harris curled in a great ball which took a touch at the front post and ended up at the back post where Feeney who had linked up well all day with his partner Jaconelli, stuck out a leg and stabbed it in from close range for his second of the afternoon.
With the game well and truly won Bathgate manager Colley seized the opportunity to freshen things up with Rhys Minnock and Jack James McGurk replacing McLeod and MacIssac. Both players earned the applause that greeted them as they made their way off.
As Jeanfield stepped up their efforts to try and gain some consolation from the match they were leaving themselves exposed and Bathgate began to counter attack at pace. Feeney, on a hat trick, nearly took advantage as he found himself between two defenders with the outrushing keeper to beat but his clipped effort went wide.
Goal number 5 completed the rout when Nyang rose majestically at a corner and powered a header into the net. The score line in no way flattered Thistle who saw out the remainder of the game comfortably. Jeanfield are a strong side who will be fancied to gain promotion this year but today belonged to Thistle.
Home manager Colley was understandably delighted with his charges and explained after the match ‘I haven’t had a full squad to pick from for quite a while. Having our two natural centre backs makes a big difference. To turn Jeanfield over 5-1 when they have only been beat once this season is fantastic. You have to treat them with respect. Hats off to the lads they were just fantastic today.’ Looking forward to the next game against Arniston he commented ‘We’ll take this into the next one. Arniston are a very good team with very good ballplayers but if we put the same application in we’ll be looking for another home victory.’