Alex Schalk’s inspirational hat-trick grasped Ross County a game-changing victory in the relegation battle as Partick sank to the bottom of the table.
In among his goals, the deadly Dutchman – who took his campaign tally to a lucky 13 – also set up Ross Draper for County’s second of the night.
It was a transformative evening for the energised Dingwall team, with the four goals creating a big goals difference cushion on the Maryhill team.
It was only a second win in 19 games as County moved off the foot of the table for the first time in 2018. It also ended a two-year wait for a win against Alan Archibald’s side.
For Partick, without a victory in nine games – including seven defeats – these are worrying times.
Given the stakes, it was always going to be a ferocious battle of wills with measured football at a premium on a sodden surface.
Partick settled first and passed up two chances in the same move inside seven minutes. From Martin Woods’ corner from the right, defender Baily Cargill was sharp to a front-post header but Scott Fox parried strongly before recovering to block Conor Sammon’s close-range attempt on the rebound.
Partick’s challenges were meaty and sometimes illegal. From one free-kick after 17 minutes, County’s first real threat saw Michael Gardyne’s free-kick pick out Draper for a header wide of target.
As rain turned to snow midway through the first half, it was Partick pressing patiently but County defending resolutely. But it was the hosts who made a dramatic breakthrough on 35 minutes.
Max Melbourne and Jamie Lindsay combined and the County midfielder’s ball into the Partick box was half-cleared. It dropped a couple of yards outside the penalty area. Schalk, lively from the off, reacted like lightening and fired a brilliant low right-foot shot past keeper Ryan Scully’s dive and just inside the left-hand post.
County immediately began to find greater space as Partick looked for an equaliser and won a 42nd-minute corner.
From Schalk’s powerful, dipping corner, the Jags’ defence was posted missing as Draper strode in to thump a five-yard header past Scully for County’s vital second.
Within a couple of minutes of the re-start, County threatened twice with Schalk firing over the bar on both occasions.
Schalk then sped on to a Billy Mckay back-heel after 50 minutes and fired home only for the offside flag to terminate celebrations.
There was no such disappointment after 55 minutes. Again, it was the tireless Dutchman Schalk who raced through on to keeper Fox’s long clearance and threaded a low strike past the outcoming Scully for the third.
Blair Spittal’s powerful drive on the hour was tipped over the bar by Fox as reminder that the Dingwall team still had work to do. But it was all over bar the shouting after 72 minutes as Schalk struck again.
A Marcus Fraser strike was parried by Scully but the County striker bundled the rebound in off the underside of the bar.