The talk in the stands before the game was the radio report linking Owen Coyle with the vacant managerial post at Dunfermline Athletic but the Saints gaffer had other things on his mind as he named himself on the bench for the visit of league leaders Partick Thistle. As expected Peter MacDonald and Willie McLaren started the game in place of Jason Scotland and Paul Lawson respectively.
Thistle had former Saints Derek Young, Stephen McConalogue and Simon Donnelly in their sixteen.
Saints started brightly and in the opening minutes had three half-decent chances: Steven Milne curled a shot just wide of the far post, Thistle keeper Kenny Arthur produced a tremendous save from a thunderous Paul Sheerin volley – the assistant’s flag would have denied the goal anyway – and Goran Stanic sent in a rising drive that went over the bar.
Saints continued to press and got their reward with 15 minutes on the clock. Martin Hardie provided the knock down from a cross and Peter MacDonald challenged to allow the ball to fall back to Paul Sheerin on the edge of the box. The Saints midfielder again opted to hit it on the volley and although it lacked the sting of his previous effort, it was low and just inside Arthur’s left hand post and Saints were ahead.
Minutes later Bryn Halliwell had his first serious action of the afternoon when he dived to push away a shot fired across him by Mark Roberts.
The 27th minute saw another great chance for Saints and again it was Paul Sheerin who tried his luck with a drive from outside the box. The referee gave a corner indicating a save from Arthur although the reaction of the Thistle fans in the North Stand seemed to indicate that the ball had struck the post.
Saints continued to play the better football and a lovely move from a free kick in 31 minutes almost brought a second goal when Stanic’s long ball was knocked down by Hardie and Sheerin acrobatically fired in a shot which was wide of the goal.
With ten minutes before the break Saints put together a nice passing move that ended with Simon Mensing sending in a shot which Arthur was able to smother without too much difficulty.
Thistle were by no means out of it but final poor passes and some good, organised defending from Saints meant that Halliwell wasn’t unduly troubled. Martin Hardie was proving influential in midfield and there was some nice link up play between MacDonald, McLaren and Milne with Sheerin desperate to feed off the scraps but half time came with just the one goal in it.
Five minutes into the second half Saints had a great chance when Steven Milne, released by a Steven Anderson through ball, beat the Thistle off-side but with Peter MacDonald at the far post, Savo’s cross lacked the power to reach his striking colleague.
Thistle’s best chance to that point followed five minutes later when Scott McCulloch took a quick free kick after an Andy Lawrie hand ball and Halliwell had to produce a great diving save to push away Mark Roberts header and the game moved up a gear as first Peter MacDonald fired just wide after latching onto a great Hardie ball and then Jimmy Gibson fired a shot just over the bar for the Firhill side.
Allan McManus was the first player of the afternoon to be booked when he clattered into Derek Young and the visitors were sensing the fact that they were now making more of an impression than they had done at any time in the game.
The 66th minute saw Steven Milne released by a Mensing ball but although he managed to beat Arthur to the ball, the Thistle keeper forced Milne wide and then pushed away the parting effort for a corner kick.
Saints replaced Willie McLaren with Darren Sheridan in 70 minutes and just three minutes later they doubled their advantage with a simple but lovely goal. The outstanding Martin Hardie found Peter MacDonald with a measured ball over the top and Peaso – so often the hammer of Thistle in the past – allowed the ball to bounce once before driving the ball wide of Arthur and into the net from 15 yards.
It proved to be MacDonald’s last action of the afternoon as he was replaced shortly after that by Andy Jackson.
Paul Sheerin was a bit unfortunate to be booked for a challenge and moments later he had another reason to be frustrated when he was unable to get his cross into the box with Milne unmarked.
Thistle had only half-chances to get themselves back into the game and the Saints defence coped well with most of what they had to offer.
In the closing minutes Andy Jackson did well to fashion a shooting chance but his effort flew across goal.
A well deserved win for Saints who created a lot of chances and took two of them in fine style. Bryn Halliwell and the entire defence deserve credit for a sterling performance that limited the Thistle goal scoring chances, Martin Hardie and Paul Sheerin were influential in the middle of the park and there were signs that both Willie McLaren and Peter MacDonald have plenty to offer in the way of support to a tireless Steven Milne as the season progresses.
SAINTS: Halliwell, Lawrie, Stanic, Mensing, McManus, Anderson, Hardie, Sheerin, Milne (Coyle), MacDonald (Jackson), McLaren (Sheridan)
Subs not used: Dyer, Cuthbert
PARTICK THISTLE: Arthur, Sives, McCulloch (Campbell), Brady, Keogh, Boyd, Gibson, Donnelly (McConalogue), Young, Roberts, Strachan (G Gibson)
Subs not used: W Gibson, Tuffey
Paul Sheerin gets it all right as he volleys Saints into a 1-0 lead
Willie McLaren challenges for the ball with Thistle's Scott Boyd