BARRING a collapse of almost unimaginable proportions, Partick Thistle will be plying their trade in the SPL next term as, thanks to a late, late fightback, the Jags are a point away being crowned champions.
Scorers: Airdrie United: Watt (34); Partick Thistle: Balatoni (89), Elliott (90)
Free-flowing they were not, but they were always better than Airdrie, who suffered the double whammy of losing in such incredible circumstances and being relegated as a result.
When the Champagne corks finally pop for Alan Archibald’s men they should savour the moment as they are in for a potentially tough season back in the top flight which, to the casual observer, they barely seem ready for. They will strengthen in the summer but Archibald will need to operate shrewdly or their vociferous followers could find the SPL a cold and unwelcoming place.
Thistle went into this knowing they merely needed to get over the line, with a return to the SPL for the first time since 2004 more of a probability than a possibility following their midweek win over closest rivals Morton.
However, even with a five-point lead and a game in hand to quell any yips, the leaders made very heavy weather of breaking down an Airdrie defence which had shipped ten goals in two outings.
Steven Craig volleyed over after 12 minutes having done well to get across his marker and Kris Doolan warmed the palms of Diamonds keeper Robbie Thomson soon after. Those moments apart, Thistle looked far from a team with the winning line hoving into view as they time and time again failed to turn good approach play into genuine opportunities.
If you don’t capitalise when in the ascendancy you are likely to pay a heavy price, even against beleaguered opponents, and so it proved just after the half hour. Liam Watt profited from a horrible error by Jags defender Conrad Balatoni, pictured, before forcing the ball past Scott Fox at the second time of asking.
The second period was more of the same as Thistle dominated only to come undone in the final third through a concoction of stubborn defending, poor final passes and a failure to convert what little they created by way of chances.
Sean Welsh failed to pull the trigger when through on goal, sub Chris Erskine pulled his effort wide of goal when he ought to have worked the keeper, and James Craigen volleyed a presentable opening into the ground.
Thistle cotninued to have almost total domination without landing a decisive blow, although they weren’t helped by referee Paul Robertson’s failure to dismiss Airdrie defender Ricki Lamie for a string of infringements when already on a caution.
However, there was to be a massive twist in the tale as the destiny of both clubs changed inside two madcap minutes. Balatoni got the final touch amid a goalmouth scramble a minute from time as it looked like Thistle had salvaged a point only for sub Christie Elliott to complete the fightback by smashing home from 12 yards to leave his team on the cusp and Airdrie crestfallen.