Nothing changed and yet nothing quite stayed the same in the relegation scrap that left both Partick Thistle and Ross County bruised but unbeaten.
The visitors may be happier with the point their 43rd-minute equaliser by Billy Mckay earned them. But the reality is that, with only two matches remaining, the creditable draw still leaves them two points adrift of the Maryhill side at the foot of the table.
Thistle will curse that they could not build on the crafted 22nd-minute opener by Chris Erskine, pictured, to claim the victory that wouldn’t only have put them five points ahead of County, and almost out of sight of the Dingwall team. A win would have potentially dragged Dundee and Hamilton Accies into the play-off reckoning. A win for either of these sides when they meet today will make them safe from automatic relegation.
Increasingly, it is looking that Thistle – at home to Motherwell on Tuesday – and County, who will host Dundee then, are in a dogfight to avoid ending up bottom. Same as it ever was, then… or at least same as it has been for a month, with slight variations.
When the sides met in the Highlands at that point it was considered that Thistle had met their Premiership Waterloo in shipping four goals to a County side that seemed suddenly to have a fair wind.
The improvement in the Highland team under the auspices of joint-managers Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson – the pair taking the reins after Owen Coyle departed two months ago – then contrasted sharply with the grim predicament that beset Alan Archibald.
The Thistle manager looked a broken man after the 4-0 thrashing of his side in Dingwall and his team seemed equally fractured with the defeat extending their run to nine games without a victory.
However, in their post-split fixtures a win over Hamilton and a last-gasp point rescued away to St Johnstone had allowed them to approach last night’s encounter as the side looking to inflict fatal damage.
That appeared the mindset of both sides in an enterprising first half for the home side. Thistle were on the front foot throughout, forcing the play, but struggled to convert their territorial advantage into anything more tangible in the initial stages. County, meanwhile, looked like a team haunted by the thought that defeat last night could have left them hanging on to their top flight status only by a thread.
Yet, Thistle are nothing if not contrary. They scored the opener their early play merited in the 22nd minute when captain Kris Doolan fizzed over a cross from the right that Erskine sweetly pirouetted to meet on a half-turn and slam into the bottom corner of the net. That should have given them a platform to drive home their advantage. Instead it presaged their fatal flaw returning to haunt them.
Archibald had ruefully predicted goals for both sides in acknowledging that their positions as the bottom two teams in the set-up owed much to their defensive frailties. Thistle’s weaknesses in this area were reflected in the fact that they hadn’t kept a clean sheet in their previous six games.
This was extended to seven on the verge of half-time when the home side made a hash of stepping out to leave County striker Mckay isolated when Liam Fontaine chipped the ball on following a partially-cleared free-kick. Doolan dallied as the team-mates around him were slow off the mark, with the outcome that the Northern Irishman was given the time and freedom to control the ball and direct it wide of Tomas Cerny.
Thistle seemed to be still coming to terms with that body blow in the early stages of the second period. A side with a propensity to fade across matches, they became edgy and increasingly vulnerable as County sensed their unease and were emboldened to push forward and claim the ascendancy.
As with their opponents in the opening period, they lacked a cutting edge and in the closing minutes it was Thistle that came agonisingly close to claiming the win with a series of near things. Scott Fox had to tip over a clipped effort by Miles Storey before all manner of penalty-box incident ensued from a series of quickfire corners.
Danny Devine’s header was cleared off the line before Thistle players howled for a handball against Ross Draper after another effort was driven in to a packed penalty area. Neither side knew how frustrated or relieved to be when the final whistle sounded.