A SHARE of the points was the reward for both sides who gave their all in a tense match at Firhill last night.
Partick Thistle 1 - 1 St Mirren
Scorers: Partick - Doolan (26); St Mirren - McLean (45 pen)
Bookings: Partick - Taylor-Sinclair, Craigen; St Mirren - Kelly
Referee: C Murray
St Mirren thus went a point ahead of Hibs who are now on the same points total as Partick Thistle, though the Easter Road side have a game in hand.
It was never pretty, but then relegation dogfights never are. It was, however, a thoroughly entertaining match with a terrific atmosphere created by 5,971 supporters, more than a third of whom were supporting the Buddies.
Both managers had the luxury of naming unchanged sides, though Danny Lennon was only able to do so because St Mirren have appealed against the red card shown to skipper Jim Goodwin in their victory over Hibs last weekend.
As might have been expected with so much at stake, it was all very hectic at first with St Mirren the first to threaten, John McGinn mis-hitting his shot when presented with a decent half-chance inside the Thistle penalty area.
Both sides mounted early attacks that came to nothing, including a free-kick by Aaron Taylor-Sinclair that was well enough struck except that it was too straight to trouble St Mirren goalkeeper Chris Dilo. The Paisley side’s defence were showing signs of fragility as the match reached the quarter mark with Thistle on the attack. The play was frantic and largely uncultured, though, until a mesmerising dribble by Partick midfielder Kallum Higginbotham saw him gain enough space to cross from the left, James Craigen just failing to connect properly with his header.
Higginbotham was only rehearsing for his role in Partick’s opener after 25 minutes. The Englishman again wriggled free to earn himself sufficient space on the left and his deep cross to the far post found Kris Doolan all alone, the striker heading the ball back across goal to nestle in the side netting with Dilo comprehensively beaten.
With Goodwin playing the role of the bad hat even though he is as bald as a coot, St Mirren tried to muscle their way back into the game, but they were bereft of any ideas up front and as the half wore on, the home defence grew visibly more confident and able to pass their way out of trouble.
As half-time approached it seemed that St Mirren’s best effort would have to be a near-own goal, Partick centre-half Lee Mair making a hash of a clearance and sending the ball just over his own bar.
That encouraged the visitors to attack, and in the final minute of an entertaining half, Jason Naismith looked set to connect with a cross ball only for Higginbotham to bundle him over.
Naismith went down easily, and it was a soft penalty award which enraged Higginbotham and his colleagues, but referee Calum Murray was only yards away and had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Up stepped Kenny McLean to drill the ball low past Paul Gallacher, and it was all square at half-time much to the frustration of Thistle who had been the better side overall.
Thistle manager Alan Archibald replaced Prince Buaben with Gary Fraser at half-time, however buoyed by their equaliser, the fresh legs really belonged to St Mirren who began to exert serious pressure on the home defence, though they could not create any clear chances.
The closest they came was just after the hour mark when a McLean free-kick from 25 yards curled round the defensive wall and also Gallacher’s right-hand post.
Both sides were now exerting maximum effort in the hunt for three precious points, chasing down every ball, though Sean Kelly went too far in his bid to stop Jordan McMillan and was booked for his pains.
The resultant free-kick was beautifully struck by Higginbotham into the path of the diving Mair whose header went just wide.
Both managers made changes as they tried to engineer a victory. Archibald replaced Chris Erskine and goalscorer Doolan with Christie Elliott and Lyle Taylor respectively, while Lennon brought on Josh Magennis for Paul McGowan.
It was end-to-end stuff at this point as rain lashed down on Firhill, and when Magennis broke away and found McLean, the St Mirren goalscorer seemed to have all the time in the world to pick his spot – too much, perhaps, as his deliberately-struck grasscutter hit the outside of the post with Dilo beaten.
Two of the Thistle substitutes combined after 82 minutes, Fraser crossing to Taylor whose looping header came back off the crossbar.
Seconds later, Dilo fisted the ball clear as Thistle’s strikers waited to pounce, before his counterpart Gallacher did superbly well to push wide a sizzler by Kelly.
Goodwin had been on his best behaviour all evening but that did not stop Taylor-Sinclair hacking him down to earn a booking, Craigen also being shown a yellow card for a late tackle.
Steve Bannigan’s shot in injury time took a wicked deflection that stranded Dilo, however the ball went wide and the resultant corner by Higginbotham was bulleted wide by Conrad Balatoni to end the hectic proceedings in a stalemate.