VICTORY by the odd goal in five after an entertaining match saw Ross County leapfrog Partick Thistle and St Mirren into seventh place in the Premiership.
Scorers: Partick Thistle - Taylor (51), Moncur (73) ; Ross County Slew (22), Arquin (48), De Leeuw (77)
At first glance that seems a poor return on the season by County who finished fifth last year, but for both County and Thistle there’s the satisfaction of knowing they will play top-flight football next season, a status they achieved in midweek.
Yet there was still a lot to play for yesterday. Thistle had started in seventh place, but finished in tenth, a drop which manager Alan Archibald calculated afterwards had cost the club £200,000 in the “points mean prizes” cash payout by the SPFL.
Admitting that the loss might affect his spending next season, Archibald said: “When you have the carrot of seventh place and the status it brings and the financial side of it, we are bitterly disappointed to miss out on it.”
For Derek Adams, finishing two places lower than last season was no disgrace: “Finishing seventh is a terrific achievement for a team that only got promoted two seasons ago.”
County began with the same team that finished against Hibs in midweek, except that Richard Brittain was left out and Jordan Slew started again. County will be glad that the big Englishman was on from the outset as he gave Thistle no end of trouble in the first half.
Often playing as a one-man attack, on-loan Slew served notice of his threat as early as the third minute when Gabriel Piccolo felt it necessary to down him 25 yards from goal. Graham Carey whipped in the free kick and Scott Fox punched it over.
Thistle were inches from going ahead after six minutes as Kallum Higginbotham sent Chris Erskine clear on the left and his cross just evaded Lyle Taylor’s lunge.
The match entered a pedestrian, end-of-term phase but Slew was still the most dangerous man on the pitch, his turn and shot after 16 minutes beating Fox but going just wide.
His first and probably only goal for County was only delayed until the 22nd minute, Rocco Quinn providing the Blackburn Rovers loanee with a ball in space that Slew joyfully smacked home.
Thistle tried manfully to get into the match, but County’s pressing game upset them and they were reduced to miserable long-range efforts. Piccolo, James Craigen and Gary Fraser probably have not hit such embarrassing shots since primary school.
Fox and Slew were both injured in an accidental goalmouth collision that caused a long delay just before half-time, the Thistle goalkeeper stretchered away to hospital with a suspected broken ankle. Slew thought he had broken his wrist at first, but it was merely a bad sprain and he heads back to Blackburn “a better player” in his own words.
With Steven Lawless replacing Piccolo at half-time, the Thistle defence did not look any more solid and, three minutes into the half, County went further ahead thanks largely to poor defending by the home side. Erskine brought down Carey and the County midfielder retained the ball to take the free kick himself.
A purler it was too, fired to the back post where Yoann Arquinn had been given the freedom of Maryhill by an absent defence, the Frenchman merely having to incline his head to bullet the ball home.
Thistle suddenly seemed to realise they were in a football match, and pulled one back within two minutes. Christie Elliott found enough space on the right wing to send in a peach of a cross to the unmarked Taylor whose sumptuous header sailed past the despairing Brown. The home side went looking for the equaliser, and were foiled in the 67th minute only by the brilliance of Brown who somehow got down to touch Lawless’s goalbound shot around the post.
Thistle’s second was a prime example of their desire to play passing football. Higginbotham’s accurate dink put Taylor clear on the right and he gave himself enough time to look up and backheel to substitute George Moncur who shot low past Brown.
Yet parity was retained for less than five minutes, and the fifth goal was a disaster for Craigen. He conceded a corner which wasn’t cleared properly and another substitute, this time County’s Melvin De Leeuw, turned Taylor inside out just inside the box before firing in a shot that deflected off the hapless Craigen and into the net.
Thistle pressed hard for the equaliser, but County had their measure and at the end of an entertaining second half, it was the visitors who went back north the happier.