A GOAL in the final minute that owed everything to 17-year-old Robbie Muirhead’s lightning-fast reactions robbed Partick Thistle of a victory they looked certain to secure at the interval, and dropped them into the play-off place.
Scorers: Partick Thistle - Higginbotham (3); Kilmarnock - Muirhead (90)
The home hoodoo continues for Thistle, who have yet to win a league match at Firhill this season, but Kilmarnock, who went behind in the opening exchanges, deserve credit for their second-half fightback after a dismal first-half display.
At the end, after monumental efforts on a heavy surface, many Thistle players were almost out on their feet while Kilmarnock were still going strong. More stamina work is required at Firhill, it would seem, especially with a home match coming as soon as Tuesday against St Johnstone.
The best moment of skill in an absorbing if not always thrilling match at Firhill saw Partick Thistle go ahead after only three minutes. Stephen O’Donnell’s long throw-in was headed up rather than away by Manuel Pascali, and as the ball dropped, Kallum Higginbotham met it with an acrobatic overhead kick. Craig Samson seemed a touch slow to react and the ball squirmed under his hand and over the line.
O’Donnell almost put Thistle two up less than two minutes later with a thunderbolt from 25 yards that went just over the postage stamp corner.
Thistle played a pressure game on their opponents and it worked, especially in midfield where youngsters Gary Slater and Chris Johnston were kept unusually quiet. Thistle were the more alert side, and made it to the ball first most times, but their final pass let them down and they snatched at the few real chances they created, such as when Higginbotham fired over in the 20th minute.
It took 26 minutes for Kilmarnock to get a shot on goal, and even that was a free kick which Sammy Clingan fired straight at Paul Gallacher, captain for the day as he replaced the injured Scott Fox.
Muirhead blotted his copybook by seeing a yellow card for a blatant dive, before Higginbotham sent in a curler which Samson saved easily.
Kilmarnock manager Allan Johnston sent on Greg Kiltie for the under-achieving Chris Johnston at half-time and that change did appear to help the visitors spark into life.
There was a moment of controversy early in the half when Manuel Pascali used his arm to block a shot from James Craigen.
The defender looked to be protecting his Italianate features, and certainly protested Italian-stye when referee Steve McLean rather harshly booked him for deliberate handball.
The resultant free kick was thrashed in from 25 yards by Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, bringing out an excellent save low to his left by Craig Samson.
Kilmarnock were making more impact in attack, but Thistle were resolute in defence.
Higginbotham looked set to apply the coup de grace when he brilliantly weaved his way through the defence, only to miss his strikers with what should have been a scoring run.
“That should have been the match there and then,” said Thistle manager Alan Archibald afterwards.
As the game grew more open, Kilmarnock took charge, and by the last ten minutes were laying siege to the Thistle goal. Boyd broke through and Gallacher threw himself headlong to deflect the shot. It bounced to substitute William Gros whose shot into to the turf was goalbound until Conrad Balatoni headed the ball off the line, with Gallacher tipping Pascali’s header over the bar from the ensuing corner.
It was all Kilmarnock in the final minutes, and their frantic attacking efforts paid off when Thistle’s central defenders were caught out of position and substitute Gros broke through the middle into the box, where he was clumsily felled by Taylor-Sinclair.
It was a clear penalty and red card. Kris Boyd stepped up and placed the ball low to Gallacher’s left, but the goalkeeper read the shot and blocked it out, only for Muirhead to pounce and score his first goal for Kilmarnock.
“We looked a different team in the second half,” said Kilmarnock manager Allan Johnston.