The words we’re away to Murieston must have cropped up at least a dozen times in the build up to the league opener. Friday 9th May 2014 made that the bakers dozen. And speaking of pies, Bathgate Thistle’s manager Mark “Winston” Whelan rustled together the right ingredients for a winning start to our maiden campaign.
Nerves were apparent early on as star defender Darran Meikle revealed he was touching cloth as Murieston’s top brass fumbled around for the changing room keys.
With rolling substitutes, it should be less stressful to pick a starting 11 but the sweat-map of Africa visible on the lower rear of Winston’s RL Polo t-shirt was a reminder of the importance of this occasion.
Kick off was textbook; small tap from one striker to another before a shaky pass back to a grinning Keith McMeeking. Great start. After a blurred 7 minutes with the game having mostly been played in the home teams half, Gary Bryce found himself beyond the defence and cut the ball back to number 27 Paul Ward who fired the round thing into the net for the first time from about 40 yards. Clipping the underside of the bar. Unless you were there. The ball was stroked home from about 2 and half yards.
Although in control of the game, Thistle seemed to be reluctant to press forward. Gaps were created between midfield and attack, that were too great for early season passing to be effective and in the second half this became more prevalent.
Back to the first half…. A rare lapse in concentration from the back 4 allowed the home team’s right winger to cut inside and steer a shot with the outside of his boot beyond the reach of Paul “Packie Bonnar, Fabricio Ravenelli Fireman Sam” Wynne. 1 – 1.
Seconds later the bag bulged again. No, not Winston reaching for the last pie; but the Thistle striker partnership restored their lead. Davy Reid having made an impact in his right midfield position ushered the ball into the box where Wardy slid it into the path of Gary Bryce who swept it left footed into the net. Murieston 1 – Thistle 2.
With the next goal being crucial it was of relief to Winsyon’s dry cleaners that Gary Bryce had the composure to lift the ball over the Murieston goalkeeper and into the net after some unorthodox defending failed to pay off for the home team. 1 – 3 Half Time.
There was a few changes in both teams as the 2nd half got under way. Immediately it was clear Murieston’s manager had a plan B as his players enjoyed the bulk of possession for the first 15 minutes. The home team got what they deserved as Murieston pulled a goal back from outside the box. 2 – 3.
With so many options available to him Muks Whelan knew he had to act. Key decisions were made as changes to the defence, midfield and strike personnel were ordered from the tactician in the trackie. As the game became stretched you would have put money on more goals as mistakes were made, but through the organisation of O’Hara and Nicholson along with the now expected heroics of Stuart Crook, Bathgate Thistle held on for the win.
A fantastic effort by all on and off the pitch and while lessons can be learned from this, at 3-1 some of us thought the game was over and wondered how many goals we’d finish with, it really was the perfect start to our season. There will no doubt be tougher tests and our next game is another tricky away tie in Edinburgh, so strength in depth is essential. All players will get game time and bench time, and attitudes have been excellent throughout. There is no reason for us not to come back from Edinburgh with 6 points out of 6.
Paul ‘Edgar’ Ward