WHAT started off as an early-season quirk is in danger of becoming a fatal flaw in Partick Thistle's make-up. An inability to win in front of their own fans was of lesser significance earlier in the season when Alan Archibald's side were recording good results on the road but, moving into the business-end of the season, it could yet prove to be their undoing.
Hearts' relegation to the SPFL Championship will be confirmed sooner rather than later but the introduction this season of a play-off for the team finishing 11th means Thistle are not in the clear just yet. Their 3-3 draw with Ross County on Saturday - after being 3-1 in front early in the second half - was their 10th home league game of the season without a win and means they remain just a point ahead of the Dingwall club in the league table.
Thistle's next two matches, against Kilmarnock and St Johnstone, are both at Firhill and winning at least one of those would both get the monkey off their back while also easing them further away from a possible play-off.
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The tension was almost palpable on Saturday when Ben Gordon scored for County to reduce the deficit to 3-2. Perhaps subconsciously, the Thistle players then started to retreat deeper and deeper to try to hold on to their advantage and most inside Firhill could see what was going to happen next. Filip Kiss, on loan at County from Cardiff City, rounded off an enterprising debut by scoring his second goal of the match and Thistle, once again, had to settle for a draw. It would seem only natural if that failure to record a home win was starting to get in the heads of the Thistle players but defender-turned-midfielder Aaron Muirhead insists that is not the case.
"I don't think the home record has become a psychological problem," he said. "No-one in the dressing room ever talks about it but we were really down after this result because it felt as though we'd lost. When you go 3-1 up at home you expect to see it out so it was disappointing to concede those two goals, especially in the manner we did. But I'm absolutely sure that we'll all be positive when we go out against Kilmarnock next weekend."
Archibald seemed to appreciate the irony that Thistle had scored three goals and still not won. All season long the theory was that victories would start to flow once a reliable striker was added to the squad but it seems not even the recruitment of Lyle Taylor on loan from Sheffield United could halt their bad luck at home.
Taylor, though, could yet make a real difference to how Thistle fare in the remaining games of the season. After scoring against Hearts the previous week, the former Falkirk player bagged another two on his home debut and will surely continue to keep scoring as long as the likes of Kallum Higginbotham and Steven Lawless, who scored the other goal on Saturday, keep supplying him with deliveries.
"Lyle has made a tremendous impact," added Muirhead. "You can see what he brings - he works hard and he holds the ball up well, too. When he gets a half-chance he can take it. It was good for him to get the two goals, although he'd already settled in. He's not shy and he's got to know everyone at the club really quickly.
"I've come up against him a couple of times in training and he's a real handful. He's a strong boy and I'm hoping he can terrorise some of the defences in this league for us."
County, despite losing Stuart Kettlewell to a late red card, have cause for optimism as well. The draw extends their undefeated start to 2014 and, just like last season, they seem on course to push on in the second half of the campaign. If it might be too much to expect them to match last year's fifth-place finish, then a move away from immediate danger should be a more realistic aim.
"We are unbeaten this year so far and we want to keep it going for as long as we can," said Gordon. "If we can go on a little run now we can keep close to St Mirren and Kilmarnock and get up the league. We would definitely not expect to be at the bottom in May.
"We have made good signings and we all know there is great quality in the changing room. Hopefully we have turned the corner and gained a bit of confidence. No-one has really been speaking about the play-offs."