WHEN Hibernian beat Ross County 2-1 at Easter Road on 15 February last year they were in seventh place, nine points clear of second-bottom Partick Thistle with a game in hand and looking safe as houses.
Of course, history tells us that Terry Butcher’s side failed to win another Premiership match, losing nine of their 13 remaining fixtures before being beaten in the play-offs by Hamilton Accies. It was a collapse as inexorable as it was unexpected and, after their abject display at Firhill on Saturday, Partick Thistle captain Dan Seabourne fears that his side could be this season’s Hibs.
Four weeks ago they enjoyed a 14-point cushion over the seemingly doomed Ross County but the Highlanders’ thoroughly merited victory (only their second on their travels during this campaign) has halved that advantage.
On Saturday Thistle face Dundee United at Tannadice (where they last enjoyed a victory in 1994) while County host Dundee. The following weekend Thistle visit Dingwall in what could prove to be a season-defining encounter.
Five consecutive defeats for the Jags have dented confidence and forced them to accept that they have been sucked into the battle at the bottom.
“It has been a tough period, but we need to dust ourselves down and get through it,” said Seabourne. “All the lads that were here last season saw a big club like Hibs going down when it wasn’t expected. Obviously, it’s a concern that we weren’t up for the battle here because, as the manager said after the game, they’re all going to be like that from now on in.”
County had outfought the home side from the first whistle and goals by Craig Curran and Raffaella De Vita had put them in command. They could even afford the luxury of a penalty miss by Curran and, even though Lyle Taylor prompted thoughts of a comeback by heading home from a Kallum Higginbotham corner, full-back Marcus Fraser scored his first senior goal to seal the outcome.
Thistle manager Alan Archibald did not tear a strip off his players, although he was certainly entitled to. Instead, he quietly informed them that they will be relegated if they continue to perform as inadequately as they did here.
“Disappointed is worse than being angry and that’s what he was,” said Seabourne. “We wanted him to scream and shout, but he was just really disappointed. You don’t like to see the man in charge disappointed. But we just didn’t turn up. We weren’t good enough and we let ourselves down. This is about pride because we should be doing better in all areas. We’ve got to get over it quickly because we have a few more tough games coming up.”
Seabourne had no explanation, and made no excuses, for the flat display by himself and his team-mates. “They played the conditions better,” he admitted. “The pitch leaves a lot to be desired but they turned us over. They came here with a game plan and we haven’t stood up to their power.
“We knew the three games [against St Mirren plus the two against County] would be pivotal to our season and we have come away with nothing from the first two.”
After recording consecutive wins for the first time in nine months (Thistle haven’t achieved that feat in the top flight for 11 years), County moved out of the relegation places, albeit on goals scored. Their three goals on Saturday were scored by players signed during the latest transfer window and Fraser believes that the Highlanders’ fighting spirit will secure their top-tier status.
“I think that performance showed what we are capable of – you have to be aggressive in this situation,” said the 20-year-old. “You can’t rely on other teams making mistakes. You have to impose yourself and we have done that well in the past two weeks.
“Wins build confidence so we need to keep doing that. Everybody will be buzzing but it will be another fight against Dundee on Saturday and, hopefully, we can come out on top again. We believed in ourselves even when we were detached at the bottom. We knew we could put a run of wins together and our last two results have put a marker down.
“We can’t dictate what happens elsewhere. The boys in the dressing room know what it takes to address this situation.”
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