WITH five pre-split games to go, four teams remain separated by the cigarette-paper width of a single point in the battle to avoid a relegation play-off.
Club futures, budgets and prestige will be settled by the finest of margins, it seems.
That excitement wasn’t quite mirrored in the cut-and-thrust of the action at the Global Energy Stadium where, perhaps, the tension turned in on itself negatively.
Certainly, both Partick and Ross County are footballing outfits capable of far better than this.
In a scrappy affair, excellent early set-piece strikes from Kallum Higginbotham and Richard Brittain counted. Prince Buaben missed a great first-half opportunity for the Jags while substitute Melvin De Leeuw couldn’t make a couple of late chances count for the home side.
For Partick manager Alan Archibald, it is shaping up as a fight to the final day.
“It definitely is a dogfight now,” he said. “It all goes right into the split now. The points you get from the teams around you will be vital.
“Today it was vital we didn’t lose the game. It could quite possibly go to the last game, although it is hard to predict.
“I thought it was a terrible game – night and day compared to the last time we came here and won 3-1. I don’t know why that was the case. We started the second half a bit better. We managed to inject a wee bit of tempo but then it just faded away.
“Probably neither team deserved to win, but it could be an important point for us.
“We’re unbeaten against Ross County and it is a hard place to come, as St Mirren discovered last week.”
Scott Boyd and Stuart Kettlewell earned long-awaited Ross County recalls on the back of the hosts’ hefty midweek Highland derby beating. It was the duo’s first appearance since County shared six goals with Partick at Firhill back on 11 January.
Partick made just one change from the team victorious against Aberdeen last weekend, with Stephen O’Donnell replacing Jordan McMillan.
For the Jags, Lyle Taylor headed wide early on from a deflected Higginbotham free-kick, before the latter player struck the opener from a second dead-ball opportunity. Boyd gave away a free-kick against Taylor just outside the box. County’s wall was present and correct but jumped over midfielder Higginbotham’s powerful, low strike, allowing it to hit the net.
Mark Brown, with no chance in goal, was furious with his wall.
The Dingwall team’s reply was swiftly delivered just five minutes later. A furrowing run by Filip Kiss was terminated outside the box by a Lee Mair foul. Richard Brittain, so deadly in these situations, curved a 25-yard free-kick around the wall, leaving keeper Paul Gallacher with no chance.
It was Brittain’s sixth goal of the season and County, for a spell, looked set to build on it.
But there was a scare at the other end for the hosts after 25 minutes.
Chris Erskine’s swirling cross was knocked clear by Evangelos Oikonomou, but only as far as Prince Buaben on the edge of the box.
Buaben’s smashed attempt from 20 yards rose just a foot or so over the County bar.
Dutchman Melvin De Leeuw entered the fray for Jordan Slew at the break, but it was the visitors who were exerting most of the pressure. But County came more and more into it later in the game.
De Leeuw gave County further hope, collecting Yann Songo’s diagonal pass on the left and striking hard and low, but Gallacher did well to smother.
The hosts fought on and an Oikonomou volley deflected just wide from Arquin’s cross.
Stephen O’Donnell also made a crucial block on De Leeuw after substitute Graham Carey’s slipped pass sent him away.
But the final whistle left neither side with supremacy and everything to fight for in the relegation scrap.
Home manager Derek Adams felt County had deserved full points.
“We had two very good chances and should have won the game with chances created,” he said. “Paul Gallacher, their goalkeeper, was excellent for them, while Mark Brown didn’t have a save to make.
“It’s very tight down at the bottom of the table. It’s important you win games but we’ve actually done better against the top six sides this season and that’s the games we go into now.”
Ross County: Brown, Cikos, Oikonomou, Kettlewell, Songo’o, Boyd, Brittain, Kiss, Slew (De Leeuw 45), Arquin, Tidser (Carey 76). Subs not used: McCarthy, Gordon, Quinn, McLean, Glen. Goals: Brittain 14. Booked: Boyd, Brittain.
Partick: Gallacher, O’Donnell, Taylor-Sinclair, Buaben, Mair, Balatoni, Higginbotham, Fraser, Taylor (Doolan 84), Erskine, Bannigan. Subs not used: Fox, Craigen, Lawless, Gabriel, Elliott, Moncur. Goals: Higginbotham 9. Booked: O’Donnell, Buaben, Taylor, Erskine.
Ref: C Thomson. Attendance: 3,441