Aberdeen took sole ownership of pole position in the Premiership with victory in this pulsating contest.
Their fourth successive win, achieved by dint of a late goal from substitute Adam Rooney, means they are two points ahead of Celtic and St Johnstone at the pinnacle and manager Derek McInnes stressed the significance of the outcome, while lauding his players for their positivity and perseverance.
“It felt like a big result as we train hard all week to win a game and it’s no consolation if you play well but don’t win,” he said. “The players got the reward today for their efforts.
“This has been a good start. We’ve always been a team capable of going on unbeaten runs. We challenged the players at the start to win four out of four in the league, and get into last eight of the League Cup and that’s where they are. So we’re really pleased with our start. Let’s just see if we can keep it going.”
Just as one can witness an entertaining fight between two bad boxers, so it is possible for two dodgy defences to provide a compelling spectacle and that was certainly the case here.
Ryan Christie and Stevie May carved open the home rearguard straight from the kick-off, only for Tomas Cerny to gather the latter’s swerving shot. Christie showed him how it should have been done when he put the visitors ahead in their next foray forward. Shay Logan combined with May to tee up Christie, who fired home his third goal of the season.
That should have provided Aberdeen with the impetus to take the game by the scruff of the neck; instead, they were behind just eight minutes later. Christie Elliott found himself in splendid isolation in the D when he collected a pass from Blair Spittal and the midfielder beat Joe Lewis low to his left to equalise.
Aberdeen ought to have had a penalty kick when Christie was brought down by Stuart Bannigan but the unimpressive Bobby Madden begged to differ.
Galvanised by that escape, Thistle raced up to the other end and took the lead with as eccentric a goal as even Firhill has seen. Spittal’s outswinging corner did not appear threatening until Kenny McLean, presumably attempting to clear, powered a header towards the corner of the goal. Lewis did well to claw the ball out but could not hold it and Kris Doolan fired the loose ball into the unguarded net.
Both sides had half-chances after that but the next goal did not arrive until two minutes before the interval, when Aberdeen equalised due to a penalty award which was marshmallow soft.
Once again Bannigan and Christie were involved but there appeared to be little contact between the pair and Christie, in any case, was heading out of the box when he tumbled to the ground. Referee Madden, on the advice of an assistant, Graeme Stewart, pointed to the spot and McLean sent Cerny the wrong way to level.
Cerny then produced a superb save in first-half stoppage time, springing backwards to fingertip Christie’s arcing shot out from underneath his crossbar.
Aberdeen took the lead for a second time when Scott Wright, who claimed a hat-trick at Firhill in May, took a pass from Graeme Shinnie and his rising drive from 18 yards eluded Cerny’s outstretched left hand.
Thistle, though, wasted no time in bouncing back and Niall Keown headed home Spittal’s corner at the far post just 60 seconds later.
Not surprisingly, this was often a towsy affair. Keown was cautioned for using his elbow on May and substitute Ryan Edwards was booked for a professional foul on Christie while team-mates McLean and Anthony O’Connor briefly threatened to exchange more than words.
It was fitting that such a thrilling contest should have a dramatic denouement and Rooney, fully recovered from the thigh problem which took him out of the start of the campaign, provided it with a deft header from Christie’s cross six minutes from time.
“I’m delighted to have scored the winner but the main thing was our performance,” said the Irishman. “I didn’t feel as though I had anything to prove when I came on because I’ve done that already a number of times over the years – I’ve always been able to score goals.”
Those spectators whose thirst for action had not yet been sated then saw Keown dismissed for collecting a second yellow card for his foul on McLean.