The accepted wisdom before the start of this SPFL Premiership season was that Hearts would probably be relegated because of their 15-point deduction for going into administration, and that Partick Thistle would fill 11th position and play off for survival against the second-top team in the Championship.
After Saturday’s results, Hearts’ relegation is a virtual certainty, but all of a sudden the Maryhill Magyars look quite capable of avoiding the play-off spot. Indeed, on the form they showed against Aberdeen, Thistle could quite easily finish just outside the top six when the Premiership split arrives in early April.
They are now in tenth, level on points but two goals adrift of Ross County who have a game in hand, and only one point behind Kilmarnock in eighth and five behind Hibs and St Johnstone in seventh and sixth respectively – and Thistle’s next two matches are against County and Hibs.
Win those, and with St Mirren up against Kilmarnock next, the picture could be quite rosy for Thistle, especially now they have learned to win at home.
“It is a big burden off our backs,” said Thistle’s first goalscorer Conrad Balatoni, “so hopefully we can continue and make Firhill a fortress like it was last season and start picking up wins every week.”
Towards the end of the match, the Thistle fans were on tenterhooks, even though their heroes were 3-1 up from the 72nd minute. Having seen victories snatched away at the last minute against Motherwell last week and Ross County and Kilmarnock at home last month, their nervousness was understandable.
Balatoni said: “The supporters want us to stay up in this league as much as we do. Nobody at this club wants to finish in the play-offs.
“Our home record wasn’t getting to us, because we knew the win would come, but it was just losing late goals and being sloppy and losing a bit of concentration in the final five minutes has probably cost us two or three home wins already.”
In truth, Thistle could and should have been out of sight long before the final whistle. They had not played well in the first half, and the visitors should have punished them as early as the 16th minute when Paul Gallacher felled Adam Rooney in the box and was booked.
Gallacher redeemed himself by first superbly saving Barry Robson’s powerful penalty, and then somehow managing to deflect Rooney’s attempt to net the rebound.
Aberdeen had the best of the play in a dull half dominated by a midfield battle – “We won that in the first half, but they were the better team in the second,” admitted Aberdeen’s Willo Flood – but almost on half-time Lyle Taylor broke through the visitors’ offside trap and sprinted goalwards only to send his shot just wide. It was a sign of things to come.
Balatoni put this Thistle ahead with a neat left foot shot from the edge of the area after Lee Mair’s mishit shot bounced kindly for him.
“I am always showing the strikers how to do it in training,” quipped Balatoni, “so it is nice to finally put it into a game.”
Taylor then made it two at the end of a swift move, Kallum Higginbotham’s final cross being perfection, before Rooney almost immediately stooped to head home Niall McGinn’s free kick.
Taylor’s second was a fine individual effort as he rounded Russell Anderson with ease and shot past Jamie Langfield. The Thistle striker then scorned three good chances for his hat-trick.
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes said: “Once they got themselves in front it was a huge shot of confidence for them, and they deserve credit because in the last half-hour they played more cleverly than us.”
Partick Thistle - Balatoni (59), Taylor (64, 72)
Aberdeen - Rooney (66)
Referee: A Muir