Partick Thistle put one foot in Premiership but leave door ajar for Ross County comeback
Kris Doolan’s side, up against 10 men for more than 70 minutes following Dylan Smith’s red card, were thoroughly dominant in a compelling first leg but scored just twice through Aidan Fitzpatrick and the evergreen Brian Graham.
Having created but scorned a plethora of other makeable chances, however, Thistle may travel to Dingwall on Sunday for the return leg wondering whether such profligacy could come back to haunt them as they look to end a five-year absence from the Premiership.
County barely threatened here as an attacking force but will surely be far more formidable in front of their own supporters. Yan Dhanda looked the most likely source of creative inspiration only for poor decision-making as a collective to let them down too often. They will have been relieved to have escaped back up the road having only conceded twice.
Firhill had crackled with anticipation long before kick-off and a sold-out home crowd did not have to wait long before their team delivered on that expectation for the first time in the evening. Steven Lawless had already demonstrated his side’s commitment to attack – do they know any other way? – with a fizzing drive that had been well saved before Thistle plundered the lead after just nine minutes. It was a special moment for Fitzpatrick who slalomed adroitly between two static County defenders before arrowing his shot into the far corner.
VAR was being used at Firhill for the first time which made it a near-inevitability that it would be deployed at some point. Smith, just 16 years old, was reckless as the last line of defence as he tried to halt another Fitzpatrick burst towards goal. Referee David Munro was initially content with just a yellow card but video referee Andrew Dallas persuaded him to have another look and out came the red.
Thistle, aiming to become the first side to be promoted after finishing fourth in the Championship, sensed a vulnerability about 10-man County and set about trying to exploit it. Kevin Holt had a header grasped out of the air, before Graham was twice denied in quick succession, the first by a brave block from Keith Watson.
The striker would not be denied forever, though. A short corner routine caught County napping and from Kyle Turner’s cross, Graham acrobatically wrapped a foot around the ball to send a scorching volley beyond Ross Laidlaw for his 21st goal of the season.
Thistle continued to play like a team unburdened by any notion of pressure, with dummies from Graham and Scott Tiffoney showcasing the sort of flamboyancy usually reserved for testimonials. Only wayward finishing – and robust defending – denied them the chance to put the tie to bed with 90 minutes to spare on a night when the home side could easily have scored five or six. They may come to regret it that they didn’t.
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