Second last game of the season. Ayr still hanging on to third place ahead of Inverness on goal difference alone. Beaten five days previously by our hosts this time around, who were still in danger of the relegation zone. Big injury problems. A poor run of form that needed ending. Who says end of the season football has nothing to play for? Certainly not the 3885 fans who were at Firhill to watch a fascinating encounter between Partick Thistle and Ayr United.
Starting off with one minutes applause for Billy McNeill, the Celtic and Lisbon Lions legend who had sadly passed away earlier in the week, this was going to be a game played at a slow pace, but one full of interest and tactics as both teams looked to get the win and snare three points, both teams with entirely different reasons for doing so.
With many players still out with injury, a first starting position was handed to star of the reserves, Luke McCowan, who had been tasked with making a nuisance of himself in attack and given free rein to roam the pitch at will.
Thistle needed a win if they were to ensure safety in the Championship and they were first off the mark in only the second minute when a mistake by Ayr allowed Miles Storey to pick the ball up in midfield and the striker made a hard run at the Ayr goal and from 10 yards out his rifled shot was blocked by Ross Doohan and the rebound pinged off Storey’s thigh and away to safety. But Ayr had been given fair warning there was to be no end of term feeling about this game.
Declan McDaid and new strike partner McCowan were linking up well and were soon confusing the Thistle defence as McCowan in particular displayed some excellent ball control and vision and it was he who got the first Ayr chance on 3 minutes only to see his low driven shot saved at the left hand post by Jamie Sneddon in the Thistle goal.
Thistle nailed their colours to the mast in the 8th minute when slow patient play from the back saw the ball ending up on the left hand side of the park and the gloriously whipped in cross slipped between Michael Rose and Daniel Harvie to be met full on the head by Shea Gordon to be guided past the stranded Doohan and in to the net. 0-1 Thistle and the Firhill faithful breathed a sigh of relief.
If fans from both sides were expecting a hell for leather, no hold barred competition, then they were to be disappointed, but what they got instead was a game where both teams were using their heads and thinking their way through the moves. Plenty of neat passes, probing runs and deftly delivered crosses meant this was a game you couldn’t take your eyes off for one second and kept the fans on the edge of their seats as the momentum swung one way the another.
Ayr were back on level terms on the 29th minute following some delicious play from the strikers. Andy Geggan in the centre circle slid the ball wide to Rose on the left who lofted a perfectly weighted cross forward for Andy Murdoch making his run down the flank. His delightful one-two with Moffat saw Murdoch free and in space behind the Thistle defence and his weighted pass across the face of goal bounced right in line with the Thistle post and on to the foot of Liam Smith who had no hesitation in firing the ball past Sneddon to restore parity on the scoreboard. 1-1 and Thistle were back in the danger zone again.
Ayr were now in the driving seat and probed and harried a shaken Thistle defence for the remainder of an enthralling half, but as the teams went in for their mid game break the scores remained locked at one apiece with the prospect of an equally intriguing second half in store.
With no changes after the break, it was exactly as you were for the second half as Ayr took up where they had left off, making run after run to worry the Thistle players, but it was to be a set piece that saw the Honest Men move in front, coming as it did 10 minutes from the restart.
Under pressure from Moffat, but with seemingly plenty of time, Steven Anderson gave away a soft corner when he pushed the ball over the line instead of getting it back to the safety of his keeper. McDaid’s out swinger from the far side was met perfectly on the penalty spot by Aaron Muirhead who merely dinked the ball over the heads of everyone and past Sneddon on the goal line to give Ayr the lead and pile the pressure on to Thistle even further. 1-2 United.
Just before the hour mark Thistle manager Gary Caldwell tried to inject some spark in to his team by doing a double substitution, bringing on Kris Doolan and Aidan Fitzpatrick to replace Gary Harkins and Joe Cardle with Miles Storey following them off nine minutes later to be replaced by Lewis Mansell. The United new boy McCowan was replaced on 73 minutes to the relief of Thistle who would not have to face his tantalising runs any more and Calvin Miller came on in his place. The final change was on 86 minutes as Andy Geggan ran out of steam and the wise head of Mark Kerr was introduced to calm things down and keep a lid on events.
The last ten minutes or so saw Thistle go all out for the equalizer as they strived to get something out this game and spurred on by an increasingly restless home support pressed Ayr hard, but the defence held firm and denied Thistle the opening, although they did hit the post six minutes from the end in their closest attempt of the half.
When the final whistle blew it was Ayr that were the victors this time round, bringing their tally to four wins out of five this season over the Glasgow side and ensuring they remained in third spot in the table. Thistle meantime remained 7th in the table, five points clear of bottom, but only two points ahead of the relegation playoff spots occupied by Queen of the South and Alloa Athletic.
With the final game of the season on Saturday seeing Ayr play hosts to Alloa, and Thistle themselves going south to Dumfries, these four teams will still have a major say in who gets relegated and who makes the great escape at the last gasp.
Doohan, Harvie, Rose, Geggan, Moffat, Crawford, McDaid, Murdoch, McCowan, Smith, Muirhead
Subs: Hare-Reid, Kerr, Forrest, Ecrepont, Miller
Sneddon, Elliot, Penrice, Anderson, McGinty, Spittal, Bannigan, Harkins, Gordon, Storey, Cardle
Subs: Hazard, Doolan, Slater, Fitzpatrick, Mansell, McMillan, Suanders
Referee: Nick Walsh